After 15 years, The Fugees made their return to the stage on Wednesday night. Despite some kinks, the performance was a beautiful reunion.
Even after 25 years the roles were mostly unchanged. The tireless Wyclef, bringing the energy and enthusiasm; Pras, mostly playing the background, ready to give a helping hand when needed; and Ms. Lauryn Hill — dawning a luminescent red gown — at the center of it all.
It’s been 15 years since The Fugees last shared a stage (for Dave Chappelle’s Block Party in Brooklyn) like they did on Thursday night. The show, at the Pier 17 venue in New York, is kicking off a 12 date global tour that will cap off in Nigeria and Ghana in December. This performance, sponsored by Global Citizen, in many ways was a cocktail hour to the tour. There were around 3,000 people in attendance who were forced to put away their phones and no outside filming was allowed. (Global Citizen will air the full show during their festival on Saturday, September 25.)
The Fugees, unsurprisingly, hit the stage late, at 10 PM (the time the show was initially supposed to start.) Accompanied by a full 10 piece band, the legendary group performed a brief, at times chaotic, overwhelmingly fulfilling ode to their 1996 classic The Score.
For the most part they kept it to crowd favorites — like “Fu-Gee-La” and “Killing Me Softly With His Song” — staying away from deeper album cuts like “Family Business” and “Cowboys.” (Although they did do a heart-pumping rendition of “How Many Mics.”) The group dynamics were fascinating to watch in person. During the show, Ms. Hill called the group’s legacy “complicated” and if you know anything about the Fugees story you know that’s a generous reading. Throughout the 40 minute show, there were little hints that their relationship is more cordial than warm. Ms. Hill, wearing sunglasses the entire night, sat down during Wyclef’s extended solo portion. Later, Wyclef asked Ms. Hill to kick a freestyle. She declined. Instead she told the Fugees’ origin story, about how she was 12 when Pras brought her to the studio to meet Wyclef. Pras made a crack that she was singing to him. Hill responded, incredulously, “why are you saying it like I sang it to just you?”
Ouch. Hey, it’s a work in progress. And it would be petty to harp on nitpicks — like group chemistry — when faced with greatness like the Fugees.
The evening would officially end with Wyclef’s rendition of Bob Marley’s classic “No Woman, No Cry.” But the real closer was the penultimate song, “Ready or Not”, with Ms. Hill’s “Nina Simone… defecating on your microphone” getting the loudest reaction of the night. It wasn’t perfect but the Fugees are back.