Lauryn Hill: Frantic

Lauryn Hill
The Warfield Theater
San Francisco, CA
February 16, 2012

Lauryn Hill: Frantic

Frantic may not be a word generally associated with the mellow hip-hop stylings of Lauryn Hill. Both her much acclaimed album from 1998, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and her 2002 MTV Unplugged 2.0 offer quiet, atmospheric hip-hop. Man, that would have been

awesome to hear live! Instead, her performance at the Warfield on Thursday night was entirely frantic and desperate to please. The mellow, sparse arrangements were replaced by methamphetamine-amped splurges of blared noisescape. The whole show was definitely a violation of expectations and even more so a violation of acceptable sound. Too many chefs to say the least.

Not only was her performance marred by the amped-up arrangements that made every song sound the same, the sound itself was muddy, distorted and overbearingly loud. That's becoming a common refrain for shows these days. I likes me a good, loud show to add to the excitement but not when the result is a blast of indistinguishable sound-blobs. In addition, few artists can survive a poor bass performance and, for most of the night, LH's bass was little more than a blaring, thumping drone that washed out her vocals and what remained of the melody.

I admire musical artists that want to reinvent their previous work and Lauryn must be getting tired of singing the same songs for the past 14 years (maybe it's time for a new album, hon) but few songs were reinvented for the better. You know that the show was lacking when your primary rumination on the way home is about what might have been.

On the plus side: Very tasty Indian food at Amber India!

Other opinions:

MT: I'm afraid Lauryn Hill was indeed a bit of a train wreck but major fault lay in the mixing board, bass at 15, vocals at 5 and the endless over-rearrangement of songs making them bloody unrecognizable. Pity because she's still got the lungs/ the pitch/ the charisma juice but her bass player was channeling/parroting In Living Color. And in the rare moments when the DJ level was turned down, her backup singers outsang her. Fun night anyway.

JW: I stuck it out until before the encore. The song choices were great with some fun cover songs thrown in [Ed. note: Always love to hear a Bob Marley cover] but I was kinda sorta disappointed at the production quality which did very little to show off Lauryn's vocals. She sang about 2 minutes of pure vocals near the end which was great but made me long for an acoustic set. I really felt like my Dad watching the show last night what with all the noise, I was feeling quite grumpy and old-fashioned in my listening preferences. And it made me feel sweaty just watching Lauryn strut her stuff in a fur coat. What's wrong with the yoof today, don't they know good quality entertainment when an old fogey demands it!!

Lenny Kravitz: Retro and Proud of It

Lenny Kravitz
Fox Theater
Oakland, CA
February 14, 2012

Lenny Kravitz: Retro and Proud of It

Authenticity is a precious commodity. It is the coin of the realm in most artistic expression. But it is difficult to define even though most people will say they know it when they see it. The dictionary definition is "not false or copied, genuine, real." It is easy to confuse 'authenticity' with 'originality' when it comes to popular music. I mean 'original' in the sense of new and inventive. These terms can bounce around in your head a lot
when going to a Lenny Kravitz show. The performance by LK in Oakland on Valentine's Day was not new or inventive but it was genuine and a whole lot of fun.

Lenny's music is unabashedly retro. His songs can
sound completely derivative of Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix or even Led Zeppelin, basically any 1970s hard-rock outfit. Perhaps LK's biggest hit,
American Woman, was originally written and performed by the Guess Who in 1970. Nevertheless, I think Lenny has an aura of authenticity because he doesn't deny these influences. His attitude in song and on stage is: 'This is me for good or bad.' OK, Maybe I am confusing authenticity with honesty. But there isn't a lot of either these days in popular culture where every reality star seems to have a scripted angle. So, LK's performance was refreshing in its familiarity.

Of course, it also doesn't hurt Lenny's popularity that he looks like a casting agent's dream of a rock star, like he walked out of a poster on to the stage. He's ready-made for superstardom. His good looks are also probably partly responsible for his appearances in popular movies including: Zoolander (one of the funniest movies in the past 10 years), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and the currently released
The Hunger Games.

Many of Kravitz's songs are not that memorable even though he's had several hits, including Tuesday's highlights, American Woman, Always On the Run, It Ain't Over til It's Over and Let Love Rule. He performed them with zest and the crowd at the Fox Theater was ready and willing to be entertained. The sound quality was also remarkably good. I have complained regularly about the Fox but the mix was great throughout the theater. Also great was LK's horn section. I loves me a good horn section. So, overall, two thumbs up for the LK Retro and Proud show.