The Fugees' reunion show: Late, but right on time
Out of all the tributes to The Score on its 25th anniversary, the most surprising comes from the Fugees themselves. The trio overcame their decades-old personal rifts and announced a reunion tour Tuesday that officially kicks off in November. They previewed it with a special New York City show taped for Global Citizen Live, their first gig in 16 years.
The headlines detailing romantic splits, on-record disses, and aborted reunions far outnumber the Fugees' two-album tracklist, but never their influence. A septuple-time platinum success, The Score was masterful in its versatility, blending dancehall inflections with doo-wop ("Zealots"), a western shtick with posse rhymes ("Cowboys"), and lovelornness with boom-bap ("Killing Me Softly," Ms. Lauryn Hill's showstopper) with street-smart acuity. Most revolutionary was the inspiration for their name: They centered refugees of the African diaspora, recasting tales of victimization and escape into truths of strength and heroism.
What New York got at Manhattan's Pier 17 was a re-introduction, a warm nod to fans who spent the last two days asking if this was really going to happen. The gigs that would carry the catharsis of 25 years of history were, by Ms. Hill's on-stage admission, "still cooking."
The Fugees on-mic chemistry sounded a little jagged over their backing ensemble as they worked through their set-opening "How Many Mics," and the brass section overpowered them on songs that didn't really need brass. The ending felt abrupt too. They closed with three of The Score's most essential cuts — "Killing Me Softly," "Ready or Not," and their cover of "No Woman, No Cry" — but the under-an-hour set time robbed the trident of its momentum.
The group's dynamic appears unchanged at least. Wyclef Jean was still a worker: There was no doubt the black fedora and sunglasses he strutted out in were going to reveal forehead sweat by the end of the night as he switched between guitar and frontman duty. Pras' measured vocal presence anchored the crew while Ms. Hill transfixed, as she's known to do. The crowd enthusiastically rapped with her on "Zealots," and her performance of "Killing Me Softly" had one stunned attendee mouthing "Oh my God" to a friend; her face was only a few shades less red than Ms. Hill's ruffled dress.
The night's centerpiece wasn't the Fugees' music; it was their mission. Near the middle of the set, Wyclef performed a freestyle that pointed to the ongoing Haitian migrant crisis at the Texas border, exacerbated by President Joe Biden's upholding of a Trump-era policy. The situation spawned a hideous photo of a border patrolman on a horseback harassing migrants with a whip. "I hope that motherf--k dies in El Paso," Wyclef rapped, to cheers. The history of the indignities Haitians have suffered from the U.S. run well past the Fugees' existence: U.S. presidents supported a genocidal dictator in the name of anti-communism through the '60s and the CDC labeled them as one of the "risk factors" for an HIV infection in 1982. The current crisis spawning during The Score's anniversary is a reminder of how much is folded into the group's name.
But even if that trauma gets lost in the way it tends to when Black art becomes classic pop art, the sheer unforgettableness of the songs were enough to bring thousands to Manhattan's Pier 17 on short notice. By 6:20, the long entry line bent around the venue's outer borders, shaped like a paused game of Snake that's gone on too long.
It felt like a pipe dream to get everyone on the venue's terrace by the stated 6:30 p.m. start time. The Fugees didn't hit the stage until around 10, well after the joyful gyrations to the DJ's spin of "Juicy" and just before it all calmed to rhythmless swaying for "U Don't Have to Call." For some, the reputation of the Fugees' live show kept them anticipating. For many, it was Ms. Hill's. When a small smattering of boos broke out before the band emerged, a middle-aged woman recalled seeing her live five years earlier. "[Ms. Hill] made us wait, like, 45 minutes," she said. "But the 10 minutes she performed were the best of my life."