The 2011 Rock The Bells festival featured memorable performances from headliners Lauryn Hill and Nas Saturday night who performed both their albums in their entirety.
Hill performed her 1998 album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” with a backing band and while they changed the sounds of some of the album’s songs (“Ex-Factor” didn’t prominently feature the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Can It All Be So Simple” sample) overall it was a stellar set.
She dedicated “I Used to Love Him” to Mary J. Blige, who is featured on the original version, and added she could not be at the performance Saturday night. In a surprise move, Nas came out to huge cheers for “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)” and Hill’s band replayed the song instead of using the original track.
Hill ended her set with an energetic version of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved,” which she also performed earlier this year on Jimmy Fallon’s show on the anniversary of the singer’s death.
While audience members appeared to enjoy Hill’s set, many could be seen leaving at various points of her set (which went through her album and then to songs with The Fugees, Nas and the Marley cover).
Some audience members actually stopped when they realized she was performing hits from her time with The Fugees. For instance, her own version of “Fu-Gee-La” caused many audience members to turn around and come back to their seats.
Hill, who is now 36 but looked like she just came out with her multiple Grammy-winning album 13 years ago, was very animated during the set and could be seen waving her arms many times and telling her band to “pick it up” or come in on certain points. She and Nas shared a large embrace after they performed “If I Ruled The World.”
Nas’ set, which was before Hill’s, started with the familiar intro “The Genesis” from his classic 1993 album “Illmatic” with video samples of the 1982 movie “Wild Style” (where the sample was taken from) and the rising energy of the crowd made it feel like something monumental was about to take place.
DJ Premier, who was also a producer on the album of the songs “N.Y. State of Mind,” “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park)” and “Represent” was DJ for the set. Fellow “Illmatic” producer Pete Rock (of “The World Is Yours”) also came out for his song and had a battle of instrumentals with Premier. Rock appeared to win the battle with his and C.L. Smooth’s classic track “They Reminisce Over You T.R.O.Y.).”
Nas’ set featured Queensbridge project buildings (on both sides of the stage and a videoscreen with childhood images of himself and the live performance while Hill’s used different images of lights and smoke with live images of herself performing.
Special guests were also featured during the set, which resembled a singalong at times on songs like “The World Is Mine” and “Halftime.” Los Angeles Laker forward Ron Artest came out (but did not rap) on “Memory Lane” while Common performed with Nas on “Ghetto Dreams.” Erykah Badu and Mobb Deep were also in attendance.
After he performed the “Illmatic” album, Nas went into songs like 2002′s “Made You Look” and 1999′s “Hate Me Now” and “Nas Is Like” as well as 1997′s “Phone Tap” from his group The Firm where AZ also had a verse (as well as guesting on the “Illmatic” song “Life’s a B****”).
Besides Hill and Nas, the day was full of highlights including Common’s performance of the 2005 album “Be” where his band transitioned the sound of “The Corner” into the instrumental for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s 1992′s hit “Deep Cover.”
Meanwhile, Badu performed her album “Baduizm” with a live band and Mobb Deep performed the 1995 album “The Infamous.” I wasn’t able to catch both sets because I had to write my story but Badu’s sound was a lot better than the Mobb’s.
Mobb Deep, unfortunately, were on the 36 Chambers side stage while Mac Miller on the Paid Dues Stage was a little too close so his own sound kind of bled into theirs while Havoc and Prodigy sounded a bit hoarse and their instrumentals were a bit flat for an outdoor festival.
Hieroglyphics crew Souls of Mischief, who’s “93 Til Infinity” still sounds timeless, on the Paid Dues stage also had to compete with Fashawn’s live band on the 36 Chambers stage which made both sets a little bit weak unless you were dead in the center of each one.
Doom did not perform at the festival and Black Star missed their scheduled 1:10 p.m. timeslot with no announcement given why as fans booed. Later, organizers said a family emergency caused the group to not perform. They did reappear after Cypress Hill’s set and Common joined them but a sound technician cut the group off early and Talib and Mos continued to rhyme a cappella to end their set.
Rock The Bells next heads to The Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View on Saturday. Future dates include Sept. 3 in New York and Sept. 10 in Mansfield Ma. For more information, head here: http://rockthebells.net/