An hour spent waiting for a show to start on Sunday night in the body heat-fed oven of a sold-out House of Blues can feel like much longer, but the irony alone made it almost worthwhile: In the 14 years since Lauryn Hill’s solo debut exploded to critical and commercial acclaim, her fans have made patience their guiding principle, and even they were getting a little anxious.
So when Hill finally took the stage, long after tour coheadliner Nas delivered his own strong performance, the audience breathed a collective sigh of relief that, at least for the night, the wait was finally over.
The issues that have kept Hill away from music can be debated somewhere else, but her abilities as a rapper and singer have never come into question. Wearing a heavy coat with a fitted cap pulled down almost covering her eyes, she cut a commanding figure performing “Everything Is Everything,” one of several songs from early in her set that have been adapted to maximize the effect of her impressive backing band, which she conducted and adjusted incessantly throughout.
Calling her set uneven may be slightly unfair after such a long absence. Should she be faulted for performing an overlong version of “Final Hour,” embellished with musical flourishes that made it seem more like a band exercise than a cohesive song, or championed for daring to deliver something greater than a routine greatest-hits show, which would likely please many fans? The answer is probably somewhere between the two, and after pushing the outer fringes of indulgence on “Black Rage,” she revived the crowd with Fugees cuts like “Ready or Not” and “Fu-Gee-La.”
The ease with which Nas has bridged his generations of old and new fans in crowd-pleasing fashion could serve as a good example for Hill to follow. There was the requisite appeasement of his hardcore ’90s hip-hop heads with a medley of “Illmatic” cuts, whose jazz samples felt refreshed in the capable hands of his supporting band, seamlessly leading into the philosophical Nas from his newest album, “Life Is Good,” with “Cherrywine” (which featured Amy Winehouse on the album) and “Daughters.” But perhaps the most notable moment was the one that never occurred: Hill was conspicuously absent for her collaboration with Nas, “If I Ruled the World,” a high water mark in both Nas’s career and in the history of commercial hip-hop. For that moment, the wait continues.
Martín Caballero can be reached at caballeroglobe