Lauryn Hill, on Lauryn Hill

(San Jose Mercury News) Concert review: Lauryn Hill show in Oakland a fiasco: It use to be easy to be a fan of Lauryn Hill, back when she was making some of the most important and successful albums of the '90s and winning record numbers of Grammy Awards. It's gotten much more difficult in recent years, as the diva has hidden herself from the public, appearing out just enough to still give Courtney Love a run for the money in the wacko pop star race. And it was darn near impossible to be a fan of Hill during her rare concert appearance on Wednesday night at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland. How bad was this concert? Well, calling it a fiasco would be an insult to fiascos everywhere. It was so bad that it sent 75 to 100 fans into the lobby only four songs into the set, all of them grumbling loudly and demanding refunds. Those were the smart ones - the rest of us remained in our seats and watched what amounted to a two-hour train wreck. It was easy to sympathize with the disgruntled fans. It was also hard not to feel bad for the venue and promoter - since they were presenting what they surely believed to be a still-professional act. The blame for this whole mess falls squarely on the shoulders of Hill, who really should consider retiring at this point in what's left of her career. The crowd had started to turn on Hill long before she took the stage - nearly 2 1/2 hours after the showtime printed on tickets. Even with an opener, fans were forced to endure an hour of silence. Little did they know that was going to be the highlight of the night. Once Hill finally made her appearance, fronting a solid 14-piece band that deserved far better than this, things began to quickly unravel. She opened with a jammed-out, improvised number that featured almost no real lyrics and zapped whatever little wind remained in the crowd's sails. The 32-year-old vocalist then turned to 1998's landmark "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" - a work that, amazingly, still stands as her most recent studio effort - for a garbled version of "Lost Ones." Her voice was terrible, so harsh, strained and unlike what one hears on the masterful "Miseducation" CD. She also sounded like she's out of shape, huffing and puffing like a weekend warrior after only a few songs. But it wasn't just her voice that was shaky. Hill stumbled about the stage and, at one point, actually fell flat on her back - which brought into question exactly what the singer had been doing backstage during the long delay. Of course, Hill would find that question ludicrous. She blamed her stage fall on her high heels and, later in the show, took the time to assure the crowd that she was sober. Assuming she was telling the truth then that's one less excuse Hill has for her terrible outing, which included shoddy and uninspired vocal performances on such formerly great "Miseducation" tunes as "To Zion" and "Final Hour." The singer had somewhat better luck with the material from her old band, the Fugees. Her voice was brittle and weak on "How Many Mics," but she finally started to get in the swing of things with "Fu-Gee-La" and "Ready or Not." By that time, however, the once-capacity crowd had dwindled down to half a house. Those who left early missed Hill's new song, "Lose Myself," which is featured on the "Surf's Up" soundtrack. It's a pretty good tune, but the singer wrecked it in concert by stretching it out far beyond its recommended dosage. In all, Hill didn't manage to provide one good reason why locals should remain in her fan camp. I'd like to tell you different, but that would clearly be a "miseducation" of the readers. Originally Posted 7/2/2007 We're a human development centered cooperative, producing in part through the generous and faithful contributions of our North Star members. Choose your membership: Annual ($36), Monthly ($3), ($5), ($10), ($15), ($30), ($70), ($200), ($500), ($1000).