It seemed a bit extreme, driving east on the Bay Bridge en route to Oakland during the final minutes of Wednesday night. But when Dave Chappelle and Lauryn Hill are performing after-hours at a grossly undersized venue, you don’t stop and think it over. You just go.
I wasn’t alone. Most of the others who bought tickets for the show at The New Parish, announced just hours earlier, were waiting outside in a long line as I arrived just after midnight. We stayed there until security finally put a rush on things just before Chappelle hit the stage at 1:30 a.m., a half our after the scheduled start.
That left plenty of time to think about the duo. Both were oddities of the ’00s who seemed like a perfect fit for each other before the show. Hill dropped out of the spotlight at the start of that decade after massive success with The Fugees and as a solo artist, and Chappelle followed suit after a multi-million dollar TV deal with Comedy Central turned sour.
The mental health of both has been questioned publicly ever since. And you have to wonder, will these two ever give us something more than a hyped-up, expensive last-minute show? We’ll have to wait and see, but for now, that’s what we’re working with.
Chappelle mostly improvised in a dialogue with the audience that led to a free-association game with the audience, touching on Barry Bonds, Nicki Minaj, Charlie Sheen, Gavin Newsom, and more. His biggest laughs arrived after a crack about Berkeley’s sandal fetish (“the dirty foot capital of North America”) and his declaration that The Luniz’ pot-inspired hit “I Got Five On It” is Oakland’s official anthem.
Just shy of 2:30am, Hill and her nine-piece band filled the venue’s tiny stage. It was clear from the beginning that she wasn’t happy with the mix from the soundboard. Perhaps her band’s setup — designed for much larger venues like The Warfield and Coachella this weekend — was a bit too much for the small venue.
After numerous attempts to adjust the levels, Hill hit her stride midway through the set when the band and gelled with a run of songs from The Fuggees now-classic album, The Score. Jumping up and down and jerking her arms sometimes wildly in her Orange blazer, Hill was in the pocket with funky punky-reggae flavored updates of the tracks. Most of the crowd helped out with “Ready or Not” and “Killing Me Softly.” After a brief break, she finished the night near the 3:30am mark with an encore featuring part of her Bob Marley cover, “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” and her room-shaking solo hit “Doo Wop (That Thing).”
She thanked the crowd, shook as many hands as she could at the front of the stage, and said we should all do it again soon. Not a bad idea, but how about an hour or two earlier?