Molson Amphitheatre, Toronto - Aug 10, 1999

JANE STEVENSON -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:20 PM ET

TORONTO -- Hip-hop's soul queen Lauryn Hill says she likes to warm up with a run before a performance.

Well, the 24-year-old New Jersey dynamo clearly hit the stage last night at the Molson Amphitheatre in full stride with a downright explosive solo performing debut in Toronto.

Although it was hardly a solo performance.

Hill was backed by a talented, 16-piece band, who were dwarfed by a large map of Africa behind them. The concert possessed the fervour of a gospel revival from the very beginning as the crowd of about 13,000 immediately jumped to their feet to dance, clap and sing along.

The confident and energetic singer, meanwhile, stalked the stage and shook one arm in the air like some out-of-control general commanding an army in the heat of battle.

The hour-and-half show, loose, lively and free-flowing, was in support of Hill's multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning album, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, which has sold a staggering 10 million copies worldwide, including nearly 700,000 copies in Canada, since its release last September. The record was also named album of the year at the Grammy Awards earlier this year, and deservedly so.

But, because Hill has only one solo piece of work to draw from, she threw in some material from her earlier album, The Score, with the multi-platinum hip-hop act The Fugees, including Fu-gee-la, Ready Or Not and the earth-shaking encore number, Killing Me Softly.

There were also snippets of fun covers ranging from the Jackson 5's I Want You Back to Stevie Wonder's Sir Duke -- although weaving in and out of these songs proved distracting at times.

As for the mighty Miseducation material, Hill began the night with the R&B-hip-hop vibe of Ex-Factor before turning to Superstar, which incorporates the Doors' Light My Fire, the Jersey-soul of Every Ghetto, Every City, and the harder hip-hop anthem, Lost Ones, which saw her emphasize the phrase "It's funny how money can change a situation," over and over again.

Then there was the simply amazing trio of Everything Is Everything, which triumphantly ended the concert, To Zion and (Doo Wop) That Thing.

The general impression was that Hill and her band -- which included everything from a rapper, to a guy working two turntables, to three powerful backup singers, to a horn section -- had been jamming backstage before the audience took their seats.

And Hill didn't sing songs as much as she allowed them to merge one after the other into one long, glorious, joyous sound.

If music is a race, Hill is clearly a long-distance runner who will make it to the finish line and come in first every time. You can depend on that.

JAM! Rating: 5 out of 5

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