Show Recap and Gallery: Ms. Lauryn Hill & Dave Chappelle
April 14, 2011
Something strange happens when you get a ticket to a show announced about six hours before doors open, at a small club with a lineup so star studded that you’d be willing to pay for a ticket at a C-note and still come in feeling like you just got away with highway robbery. Ms. Lauryn Hill and Dave Chappelle? On one bill? Didn’t they both at one time or another in the last five or ten years or so had their turns as the most popular black person (besides Oprah) in the country? You’d be so happy you might even cheer the cops in the room for letting the show go on way past the usual curfew.
For our intrepid performers, what started as an offhand remark at the Lauryn Hill show last night in San Francisco snowballed into a show created on impulse. Dave Chappelle, who only saw Lauryn Hill live once at the taping of Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, mentioned something to a friend about how he’d love to do a show with her one day. That friend was hanging with the show’s promoter last night and told him what Dave said. Somehow the conversation morphed into something serious, people started asking why couldn’t one day be the next day, and later that night Lauryn and Dave decided the Time Is Now. Dave brought himself to the Bay in a chartered plane. Logistics didn’t get completed until around 6pm that day, when the folks at Ankh Marketing and Hip-Hop.com posted a Twitter message about a surprise show and hoped for a response. As for the venue, the small club on the edge of Oakland’s downtown called The New Parish, the band itself didn’t even finish its setup until 15 minutes after the doors were supposed to open. And to think for some people, impulse is what happens when they buy shoes.
By showtime, the show, sold out within hours thanks to that awesome and majestic power of social media, attracted a line of people halfway around the block. It was already technically the next day when doors opened, and people streamed in at a leisurely pace that suggested they must have already given up being productive the next morning. The energy definitely picked up when Dave casually strolls onto the stage with a cup of coffee in hand. But something was a bit unusual after Dave concluded his opening remarks. Chappelle, already known for his improvisational skills, couldn’t settle into a routine—the crowd won’t let him. People kept yelling little remarks at him, little non-sequiturs and pieces of absurdity at him like they were throwing softballs at a slugger in hopes he’ll swing at every one and rip them out the park. And that’s exactly what Dave did.
Early on, a few people in the front shouted something about East Africa, which totally perplexed Dave who replied, “East Africa? You’re in East Bay right now!” That naturally lead to a discussion of Somalia and their piracy problems. “That’s the most gangster thing I’ve ever heard, twelve skinny Africans in a Johnny Quest boat go rob an oil tanker.” Later, after some words about the Egyptian Revolution, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom going to rehab, the legality of marijuana in Oakland and more pirate jokes, someone from the balcony yelled, “Someone took my drink…This sucker took my drink,” which prompted Dave to ask, “is this the 70’s?” before going off on a stream of jive. “I should be an auctioneer,” he notes, “there so much chaos in this room I should be selling cattle.” Eventually, Dave yielded the floor, but not before prefacing the introduction with a sincere appreciation for Lauryn Hill. You could tell it was sincere because the bravado and aplomb he had while improvising jokes subtlety slipped, as if he was momentarily at a loss for words.
Ms. Hill took the stage after a brief warmup period. Tonight, she performed the same set as she did at the much larger Warfield the night before, but there was a different edge to it. Last night you could tell Lauryn was thrilled by the response of the crowd, and she came to the stage tonight with plenty of leftover enthusiasm. The songs were the same, in the same order even, but that intimacy with the smaller crowd became a part of every song she performed. The band played strong, but perhaps didn’t stress their notes quite as much as they did last night. Lauryn herself almost sang out of breath every once in awhile, while displaying nearly every emotion possible on her face. For “Killing Me Softly,” the opening acapella verse was sung with a sweetness and tenderness that seemed missing when she had to sing loudly to fill a large auditorium the night before. Meanwhile, the crowd kept whistling, with encouraging woops and yells. It’s almost as if they turned this show at The New Parish into a church service. The crowd didn’t seem any less enthusiastic as the night before, but something about a smaller room caused the people on the floor seem less of a mob and more like people. Lauryn ended the set chanting, “Lets do it again! Let’s do it again” to the beat.
Dave had the last word, following Lauryn back on stage after she left, telling the crowd to go home, which they didn’t. Actually, they resumed their softball tosses, which he obliged for awhile before deciding that the only way he’d get off the stage is if he stage dived into the crowd. Which he did, impulsively of course.