|Lauryn Hill performs during the Rock the Bells festival in New York City on Sept. 3, 2011. (WENN.com photo)
TORONTO - One performer was spot on, the other was beyond spotty, resulting in a mixed reaction by a slowly but surely thinning crowd by night's end.
Rock The Bells one of hip-hop's bigger annual festivals made its way to Toronto's Molson Canadian Amphitheatre Thursday evening co-headlined by rapper Nas and r n' b singer (and former Fugee) Lauryn Hill. The fact that both artists were doing one of their landmark albums in its entirety was the selling point, but as solid as Nas was for Illmatic, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill was at times difficult to watch.
In fact, it seemed to be more The Misinterpretation Of The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. That or The Disintegration Of Lauryn Hill.
Showing up some 90 minutes later than what was a slated 9:45 start time, Hill and a large supporting cast made their way onstage during the album's Intro before things quickly going awry. The singer, who was previously panned for a rather shambolic gig at Sound Academy earlier this year, flew through Lost Ones at a pace that made dancehall reggae star Sean Paul's delivery seem slow.
Constantly dabbing her face with a towel and acting like a mad conductor, Hill occasionally showed her pipes on Ex-Factor but too often look distracted by some trivial things. And the stage backdrop resembling a large library with a few video screens and the album title spelled out on one side exemplified the busy nature of Ms. Hill.
Even the audience who waited patiently weren't quite sure what to make of her, many looking at friends nearby with a what's going on? expression. Sadly, some of Hill's backing singers shot similar glances at each other when she asked them to speed the songs up, harmonize or stop.
By the time Hill offered up Doo Wop (That Thing) the singer's signature fans lapped it up despite coming off like an average rendition. Hill quickly left the stage and with that a steady stream of the crowd left for the exits. Another highlight included her and Nas joining forces for If I Ruled The World
As unpredictable as Hill appeared, Nas was ever the showman, rapping his way through Illmatic with the same ferocity, passion and punch as he did back in 1994. Coming on stage with a New York inner city backdrop with Queensbridge Houses written above a cast iron gate, Nas weaved his way through N.Y. State Of Mind and Life's A Bitch with the crowd energized and along for the rhymes.
Backed by DJ Premier and Pete Rock, Nas shone on Halftime and Represent while some of the slightly mellower material like The World Is Yours, Memory Lane (Sittin' In Da Park) and One Love definitely passed with flying colours.
Nas also managed to work in some of his other hits after closing Illmatic with the hard-hitting It Ain't Hard To Tell. And by the end of his roughly 70-minute set, it wasn't hard to tell who earned their keep on this night.