Part of the miseducation of Ms. Lauryn Hill is that no one taught her to wear a watch.
[Updated] Saturday night at Voodoo was supposed to be about Arctic Monkeys, who were headlining the festival to the surprise of everyone except all the people who showed up for them. When the first talent lineup was rolled out, their name on the bill prompted speculation that Skrillex would be the first EDM artist to headline Voodoo’s main stage.
But the story of night was Ms. Lauryn Hill, who has a well-publicized problem with punctuality. She is notorious for being late, and Saturday she was 45 minutes tardy for her 6 p.m. slot on Le Ritual Stage. At one point, former KKND (“The End”) deejay and Voodoo organizer Sig went onstage to acknowledge that she was late, and by offering up a choice of reasons—just left the hotel, had to pick-up the dry cleaning, got lost—in effect told the crowd that no one backstage knew what the problem was. Soon after, her band scurried out and started a rough version of Bob Marley’s “Soul Rebel,” one that she began singing while in the wings, well before she got onstage.
She then dropped into a hard reggae version of “Killing Me Softly (With His Song)” and a terse, reggae funk groove for “Everything is Everything.” She sounded great and committed, but at 7:15 she was 15 minutes over time and the plug was pulled on her set mid-song. It was a cold ending, but as part of its effort to minimize noise issues at night, Voodoo has to close at 11. A seriously overtime show would have a ripple effect on the rest of the schedule. After she went 15 minutes long, corporate rock band 30 Seconds to Mars started 8 minutes late, but the final set change-over was sped up so that headliners Arctic Monkeys could begin back on time.
I’d have more to say about the Arctic Monkeys set, but it was announced that Hill would finish her set at 10 p.m. on Le Flambeau Stage after the end of Benjamin Booker’s set. I’d also have more to say about him, but I had to write a quick story on Hill for The New Orleans Advocate. After having covered the story, the writer in me had to know how it would end? Would she say something about her lateness? Getting cut off?
The question that didn’t occur to any of us was, “Will she be on time this time?” The answer was no, though it wasn’t all her fault. Much of the time from 10 to 10:30 was spent getting the stage ready for Hill and her band. But, there came a point when the stage was bare and once again Hill wasn’t on it. it wasn’t until 10:45 that the band came on stage, officially with 15 minutes to go and a half-hour left in her set. She came on during a high energy reggae work out, gesturing frantically at musicians and sound people, directing musical and support staff actions with neurotic intensity. But whatever the intensity’s source, it led to a riveting final set, complete with a cover of Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” and encore versions of “Everything is Everything” and “Ready or Not.”
At any point, it seemed like the set could be ending as she presided over rave-up moment after rave-up moment, only to move on to more music. People speculated on Twitter that there had likely been some terse conversations backstage, but none of that came out onstage until someone at the side of the stage signaled that it was time to stop at 11:15.
Hill had other ides and announced, “We’ll do one more song,” then quickly lit into “Doo-Wop (That Thing),” tweaking her phrasing of lines in it as she did in other songs in ways that kept fans from singing along, no matter how badly they wanted to.
Hill never addressed the events of the evening, and as maddening as she was to those who waited an hour and a half to hear her sing an hour’s worth of material, there’s no denying that she was remarkable in her ability to pull together a completely personal, passionate musical vision—and one that is malleable. Saturday, reggae underpinned many of the grooves, but last year she similarly recast her songs in a gospel mode.
Too bad it doesn't involve a watch.
Updated at 8:55 a.m.
The story was revised for better readability.
Updated Nov. 4, 10:35 a.m.
The staff photo of Hill was recently added, as was a video that more fully depicts her being cut off.