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Lauryn Hill fails to entertain, while Rise Against revs up the audience

By Steve Greene

Aug. 15, 2011 10:43 a.m.

Lauryn Hill and Rise Against
L.A. Rising
July 30
Lauryn Hill: paw_t820.pnghalfpaw_t820.png
Rise Against: paw_t820.pngpaw_t820.pngpaw_t820.pnghalfpaw_t820.png

Compared with the throbbing fire of Immortal Technique’s earlier performance at L.A. RIsing, Lauryn Hill was a lovely, well-crafted scented candle. The set opened with a wall of psychedelic noise, anchored by dueling basses. The funky vibes bolstered an unrecognizable version of “Killing Me Softly,” an early indication that Hill was going to play against expectations. It seemed the audience was not only confused by her song selection, but the fact that her vocal microphone made it difficult to make out any lyrics.

In a vacuum, Hill has few equals in pedigree and name recognition. But pinned down firmly to her spot on the stage, she was drowned out by the over-the-top basses. As soon as she recognized the inability to have her voice heard over her backing band, she seemed more than willing to make way for the final trio of acts.

It wasn’t until she announced a Fugees song that there was a recognizable audience reaction. Whether Hill, the sound techs or the paying customers were to blame, her portion of the show reflected one central misjudgment: This was a mass of people who wanted to be sung at, not sung to.

The audience got Rise Against as an antidote. Fifteen minutes after they took the stage, all four members of the band were drenched in sweat and the audience was primed for the rest of the night. Spectators and performers were finally on the same energetic level, as evidenced by the combination of moshers in the front floor section and guitarist Zach Blair high-kicking his way across stage.

Lead singer Tim McIlrath’s message to the audience, “We need all of your voices. That’s what tonight is all about,” seemed like the right level of demands for the audience. It was a way to acknowledge that the combined force of the audience was capable of making changes in its community and its country, but that the immediate moment was for the creation and enjoyment of quality music.

McIlrath did begin to acknowledge the crowd’s growing sense of restlessness and lack of regard for physical space. “You guys got crazy in your eyes. I can see it,” he said. As the group switched from acoustic to full band at the end of “Hero of War,” the sun set behind the Coliseum, adding poignancy to a song already imbued with heavy emotion about the conflicting nature of war.

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