I’ve been to more concerts in my lifetime than I can remember. But I can tell you which were distinctly the best and worst that I’ve attended.
The best was in early 1999, during my senior year of high school. I went to see The Roots at the State Theatre (Now The Fillmore) in Detroit. Black Thought still had his dreads, Questlove was still on the husky side and the band was touring for their latest album, Things Fall Apart, which remains one of my favorite albums of any genre.
I had no life, so I got to the standing-room-only venue hours before the door opened to secure a good spot up front. During the wait, I met someone who would become a good friend and attend my wedding some 14 years later, along with her friend, on whom I had a fierce crush (Jennifer, if you’re reading, my heart hasn’t quite yet gone on). When the boys hit the stage, they bodied it for some of the most memorable two and a half hours of my life.
The worst concert I ever attended was in 2013 at Chicago’s now-shuttered Congress Theater. My boy Mike scored us tickets to attend Lauryn Hill’s show. What we experienced were overlong, nearly unrecognizable versions of songs from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill; “Everything is Everything” was a nearly 20-minute mess that had her singing the hook ad nauseam to the point where I wanted to stab myself in the gullet. (Unless your name is Luther Vandross or Led Zeppelin, you should strongly reconsider stretching out your songs in concert before you actually do it.) Maybe three songs in, we left the theater amid a sea of pissed off concertgoers ready to burn every Fugee-related thing we owned.
These were two very disparate concert experiences with one common thread: Both acts were late as fuck to get to the stage.
The Roots had us waiting about two hours after the scheduled concert time, which meant I waited about five hours total (which was cool, because Jennifer). But they put on such a memorable show that it didn’t even matter. Hill, on the other hand, was at least two hours late, hitting the stage at about quarter to 11 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, only to put on a shitbox show.
Social media is dragging her this week for being two hours late to an Atlanta show (which is a little humorous considering Atlanta may as well be the birthplace of CP time), but it’s not just because she was late – it’s because it is Lauryn Hill.
First off, as my experience indicates, she’s been pulling this late shit for years now. Second, the many embarrassingly public bouts of misfortune she either experienced or caused in the years following Miseducation’s release has made the public skeptical about her in general.
Finally, if we’re being real, some folks are probably just a tad salty at her for releasing a pop/R&B classic, only to follow up with an MTV Unplugged album that’s the audio version of popping two Ambien after finishing the Ironman triathlon, and is only noteworthy for inspiring one of Kanye West’s first singles.
However, Hill is definitely not alone on the island of artists who are late as fuck to their own shows. Prominent acts do it all the time. The Biebs has done it. Ri-Ri has done it. Keyshia Cole, who has some goddamn nerve showing up late to anything someone is willing to pay her for that’s music related, has also done it.
Here’s the difference: Rihanna puts on a decent show. Justin Bieber can come out and make fart noises in the mic for two hours and Beliebers would go looking for the vinyl of the show. If a beloved artist can come out late and totally body a live show, I think fans will quickly forget that their feet are aching as they slide through a soup of spilled $7 cups of Milwaukee’s Beast and spent roaches.
When Talib Kweli showed up hours late to a concert at the University of Michigan that I’d interviewed him for, it was cool because he was in his prime – between Train of Thought and Quality – and also because college students don’t have shit else better to do than wait. (Calling his cell to ask him what the fuck was taking so long allowed me to meet my college sweetheart and first love, so I was cool with it.)
You can’t essentially disregard your 17-year-old (only) hit album and completely ignore your 20-year-old best album and expect that folks are gonna be all hunky-dory when they’re waiting, only not to get their money’s worth. Hill burned through her goodwill throughout the years, which made her Facebook response all the more infuriating: If you’re getting a fat check to do a thing and you have thousands waiting on you to do that thing, you don’t get to decide when you want to get started doing that thing.
Just the same, If Beyonce showed up three hours late to a concert and wrote her fans some privileged, one-percenter, Jo-Ann Fabrics bullshit like, “I don't have an on/off switch. I am at my best when I am open, rested, sensitive and liberated to express myself as truthfully as possible,” there would be a mass exodus of sistas getting let go from their jobs that week for showing up late and making the same excuse.
Oddly enough, the second-best concert I ever attended was actually Hill’s Miseducation Tour. OutKast was a dope opening act, and Hill and her background singers bodied Miseducation as well as a bunch of songs that weren’t hers. She still had that “Killing Me Softly” video fineness jumping off, and most importantly…she was on time.
If that Lauryn Hill were two hours late, all would have been forgiven. But that doesn’t excuse any artist for engaging in behavior that shows a fundamental lack of respect for the fans that keep them in Louis Vuitton. If we flame on every artist that makes us wait for a concert like we did Hill, maybe there would be a sea change.
But it probably won’t happen, because we don’t really care. Not if the artist is good enough.