ZERO STARS/**** Image B+ Sound A+
directed by Joe De Maio
by Walter Chaw A seemingly endless series of repetitive, politically embarrassing diatribes, Lauryn Hill: MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 (since released on CD as the singer/songwriter's follow-up to her acclaimed debut "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill") is extraordinarily hard to watch and even harder to listen to. Over the course of thirteen largely-indistinguishable four-chord folk tracks, Ms. Hill proselytizes in ways so mindless and nasty that the cumulative effect of her (racist, adolescent, and naïve) ranting is one of ever-mounting shrillness: one-note and off-key.
Oft-praised for her emotional meltdown on the strikingly disingenuous "I Gotta Find Peace of Mind"--the track punctuated with torrents of tears cascading down Ms. Hill's earnestly upturned features--rings of the kind of self-serving dishonesty late of liberal arts college dilettante militants who embrace the tragedy of their sanctified existence ("Touring is like prison," Hill whines) for a few semesters and later thank the heavens that their tedious adolescence wasn't recorded for posterity. Hill is not so lucky; her raspy ("Some folks wouldn't come out here with their voice sounding like this, but hey man, I'm just keeping it real"--yeah, 'real' lousy) phrasings lend her glut of stream-of-consciousness bellyaching an element of the pathetic. It's one thing to fulfill the sophomore jinx, another altogether to reach a career nadir that calls into question the wisdom of one's career path.
Somehow worse than the childish politics and insincere meekness of her musical posturings are the between-song interludes, which reveal Ms. Hill as juvenile, spoiled--even graceless. She chides her (increasingly disinterested) audience for their polite applause, mistaking their strained courtesy for adulation; what more can one expect when one introduces her concert by promising that her material is neither organized nor polished and that if she should go 18 bars singing just "Oh baby, baby, baby," well, deal with it, that's her muse, man, get on the train already. She goes on to say that she's no longer a performer but instead a vesicle for a higher power while falling to her proverbial knees imploring that we appreciate her humbleness before her awesome gift. "Adam Exists in Theory" is introduced "for all of mankind, everybody without exception."
Needless to say, the entire performance is a particularly unbecoming ego trip. ("Every one of these songs is about me first"--no kidding.) Her songs--inchoate diatribes against Jews, The Man, lesbians, promiscuity, and her boyfriends, sprinkled with enough references to how unaffected is her appearance this evening (denim wear with a 'do rag and Yankees cap)--make it all too clear that she spent hours affecting just the right amount of disenfranchised soul-hipster cool. Better that she'd spent some time reading a book--one that doesn't include Deepak Chopra bullshit like, "I'm blessed to be here today to share with you today all that I've learned. I know some of it sounds cryptic, but I know that God doesn't lie and that He knows how to talk to people the best." The implications of such stuff are just stunning--Peter, Paul, John, and Lauryn: the Aeolian harpy. What I'm most impressed by is how Ms. Hill manages to play the guitar (albeit badly; enough with the chunk-chunk-chunka-chunk strum pattern already) while hanging from that cross. And more, how they managed to find nails strong enough to bear the weight of her self-absorption.
Credit MTV with their sly shots of a few audience members, who, as the evening wears on, take on the look of resigned mute suffering: There's no escaping this torturous coffee-shop Phoebe. When "Freedom Time" breaks down into a poorly-scripted rap against multiple Marxist targets, catch a glimpse of a handsome man in a pale blue shirt sitting on the floor just to Ms. Hill's right, his eyes rolling and looking mournfully towards the exits. I'm with ya, brother.
Reproduced with a stunning amount of fullness and fidelity in its Dolby 5.1 and PCM stereo mixes, the clarity of the music is all that purchasers of this little DVD nugget should be interested in, and rest assured that it's fantastic. The video, presented in a fullscreen transfer, is a little soft in spots, but really, who cares. There are no special features on the disc--the main program is "special" enough, though. Originally published: July 31, 2002.