[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]
London Carling Hammersmith Apollo
WHEN WYCLEF JEAN announces that nine years have passed since The Fugees last toured together, it's a startling reminder that the three have been apart for longer than they were together. Only two original albums appeared under the Fugee moniker; the second of them being The Score, hip hop's Dark Side Of The Moon. To appreciate the contrast between that slick, glistening blockbuster and the band's live act, imagine Pink Floyd walking onstage (although not necessarily disguised as a trio of abductees from a Black Studies tutorial at Berkeley circa 1970) and launching into a set of Cramps tunes.
When I first saw The Fugees play, down the bill at a tiny club venue in the early Nineties, the frenetic magpie tumult from an unfamiliar act was exhilarating, quite unlike anything I've watched since. When I last saw them, they sounded weighed down by The Score's huge success and their own rapidly accumulating pretensions. It was bloated and fractured, dispiriting rap karaoke.
Tonight falls somewhere between the two: a more cohesive and traditional performance than they used to offer, but one enlivened by what seems their own genuine excitement at their reunion. The Score unbalanced the group, reducing the hyperactive Wyclef and Pras - in the public consciousness, at least - to Lauryn Hill's muttering, monosyllabic sidemen. Wyclef is back in his element here, a natural showboater and leader, popping up in the balcony to swap rhymes with Pras on the stage below.
The sound, murky and distorted, would render the hits unrecognisable if the band themselves weren't already doing a fine job of it. Only Killing Me Softly is played completely straight. As their entire career is based on incorporating other people's work into their own (No Woman No Cry rolls around with the heavy inevitability of a tax return), it figures that much of the set should be drawn from their solo projects. Pras's Ghetto Superstar becomes a hefty, shameless rocker. Hill's Doo Wop (That Thing), a raucous, muddy and joyful noise, offers hope that she has successfully extracted herself from her own fundament.
On this showing, The Fugees aren't just once again The Fugees; The Fugees are once again fun.
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