They bought tickets planning to celebrate. They arrived in time for a wake.

The scheduling had seemed perfect. Where better in Vancouver to welcome news of the coronation of America’s first female president than at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in the company of Ms. Lauryn Hill, the musical epitome of the single-minded strong, black woman?

The auditorium was bereft of nervous excitement as the crowd waited for Hill to take the stage. Instead, concertgoers sat clinging to their phones, scanning Twitter for crumbs of good news as American electoral maps continued to hue red. Hill’s DJ tried to pump up the crowd with mixed success as brave dancers shuffled next to hollow-eyed phone watchers slumped in their chairs. The atmosphere remained sullen.

When Hill did emerge, it was soon apparent that history was neither going to slow her down or compromise her art.

“How are you? Vancouver, what’s happening?” she enthused, before launching into an afro-jazz rendition of “Everything is Everything,” instantly followed by a soulful “When It Hurts So Bad,” the latter’s raw interpretation of heartbreak providing an appropriate sentiment for the feeling in the room.

Grabbing an acoustic guitar and plonking herself down on a vintage sofa centre stage, Hill had little comfort to offer a crowd looking to their heroine for some well-timed words of wisdom.

“We live in interesting times. People think progress is a blanket,” she explained, somewhat cryptically. “When it gets pulled up it leaves other parts exposed. We need a bigger blanket.”

All Hill could offer was optimism through her music. A sensational singer and rapper, she infused the hip hop of her youth with soulful jazz through “Ex-Factor” and “Lost Ones.” Dipping into her work with The Fugees, she reeled off “How Many Mics,” “Fu-Gee-La,” “Ready Or Not” and “Killing Me Softly” one after the other. 

If the sky is falling, the crowd realized, we might as well go out dancing.

Ms. Lauryn Hill isn’t using the honorific by accident. She’s demanding respect through language. That strength of purpose is reflected by her on-stage presence. James Brown in culottes, conducting her band with ferocious intensity and ensuring every note was to her liking seemed more important than playing to the crowd. A concert, especially on nights like this, is not the same as a party. This is her art. It deserves to be delivered as close to perfection as possible.

A lengthy list of covers by Sade, Bob Marley and Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” pushed the concert towards 11:30pm, the crowd doing its best to feel the music and live in the moment. But even with 90% of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre crowd on its feet, the numb faces of those seated and the flickering red maps on cellphones demonstrated that any relief was only temporary. Music, even great music, can only do such much.