Lauryn Hill dazzles with full sound at Montreal Jazz Fest

Her hundreds of fans at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier Tuesday night took the delay in stride and didn't hold back the cheers

R&B star shows up late but makes the most of it for the crowd

Lauryn Hill treated her Montreal Jazz Festival audience to hits from across her catalogue, and a few Nina Simone covers for good measure. (Denis Alix/Montreal Jazz Festival)

It was 10 p.m. by the time Lauryn Hill finally strolled onto the stage, dressed in a ruffly black skirt and a white top with puffed sleeves with a black scarf tied into a bow.

She was an hour later than expected, and her DJ had been dutifully entertaining the sold-out crowd at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier for long enough.

This was actually fairly prompt for Hill, all things considered.

In the years since the 1998 release of her Grammy-award winning debut solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the R&B star has earned a reputation as an erratic performer, often showing up hours late for her concerts.

Hill showed up more than two hours late to a show in Atlanta in May, explaining later on social media that she was "aligning [her] energy with the time" and that "some days we are more successful than others re: time."

Her hundreds of fans at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier Tuesday night took the delay in stride and didn't hold back the cheers when she appeared with a "Hey, hey, Montreal."

A few in the crowd left early, with one man telling me he gave up 25 minutes into "the worst concert [he's] seen."

Most stayed until the end, dancing and swaying and calling the queen of R&B "amazing."

Hill's set was split into chunks representing musical eras, from her acoustic unplugged album to her Miseducation years, onto her interpretations of Fugees' tunes and then her last endeavour - covers of the formidable Nina Simone's hits such as Feeling Good and Ne Me Quitte Pas (originally sung by Jacques Brel).

Lauryn Hill took to the stage on Tuesday, July 5 at Sir Wilfid-Pelletier as part of the Jazz Festival. (Denis Alix/Montreal Jazz Festival)

Her rich and versatile voice soared the most during the Simone covers, and the crowd seemed in awe as she kicked it into another gear.

Hill performed several loud and frenetic versions of hits from her first solo album, among them: Ex-FactorEverything is Everything, and Lost Ones.

As she segued into the Fugees' rap hits, the full sound of her band kicked in, with the horn section and trio of backup singers transforming the minimal sound of the recorded originals.

It seemed Hill was dealing with a few sound problems at the start of the show, as she motioned to a technician to bring out another microphone, but the sound settled down after the first few songs.

Hill periodically stopped to sing Montreal, riffing on the city's name, to the delight of the crowd. And she seemed to enjoy herself, dancing with her back-up singers and even bringing three of her children onto the stage at the end to say hello.

"Oh you're so nice, you're so kind Montreal. Thank you," Hill gushed towards the end of the show.

Later, as she launched into the biggest hit of her biggest album, Doo Wop (That Thing), she shouted out: "If you feel good put your hands in the air!"

The crowd obliged.

Lauryn Hill is playing a second show Wednesday night at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. The opening act takes the stage at 7:30 p.m.

Salimah Shivji is a CBC news and arts reporter who is taking in some of the marquee events at this year's Montreal International Jazz Festival. 


    Salimah Shivji


    Salimah Shivji is CBC's India correspondent, based in Mumbai. She has been a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau and has covered everything from climate change to corruption across Canada.