Challah! It’s Matisyahu

The Summer Stage at The Stone Pony has become my new favorite venue. Out of all the artists I’ve seen, I believe that Matisyahu was one of the best performances so far.

I distinctly remember when he first broke the seal in the music world, and ever since has been a spectacle humbly fashioning the payot, yamaka, and beard. Standing in the crowd, that’s what I anticipated seeing. However, a young Hasidic rabbi did not appear on stage, instead, a modern day Jew came out and sat on top of a stack of speakers. If you’ve seen the movie Holy Rollers, Matisyahu would have been one of the mainstream Jews that were recruiting the more orthodox Jews to smuggle drugs on a plane. That probably sounds weird, but I highly suggest the movie.

When the song kicked in, Matisyahu began bouncing about on stage with his bright green Nike’s, tight jeans with the jacket to match, and his LA flat brim fitted. Matisyahu’s energy and stage presence was uplifting and electrifying. One second he would gliding in a Mikey J manor and the next he would have his arms out spread looking to take flight, spinning in a propeller motion across the stage with his head up as if to be praising Hashem himself.

The crazy thing about how he danced on stage was the fact that the crowd was doing the same exact thing. They were getting loose and flailing their bodies about, closed eyes, just feeling his words of hope and prayer…or just too high on life to deny the music.

Matisyahu’s music was a great compilation of reggae, rock, ambience, and hip-hop. He connects each element of these genres in his songs. During “Jerusalem” and “King Without A Crown” there were those strong reggae roots of a funky bass line, dancey hi-hats, those little guitar riffs and upstrokes, and of course the flapping of the tongue when he sings as if the words were supposed to all string together at this incredibly fast pace.

Matisyahu’s band was absolutely remarkable. The drummer was throwing little fills in making beats sound complex but in such a lax and casual way. The bassist, who stood there with his hood on for most of the time along with a lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth, had his bass up high that it vibrated through my soul. The guitarist was carrying the melody on with those loose kind of chord progressions that are familiar in reggae and ska.

There were certain points were Matisyahu would begin howling and carry notes in this trance-prayer-like way. It was ridiculous. There was a moment where the band was jamming out for a while and Matisyahu sat on top a 20-foot speaker stack grooving and doing some smooth vocal scatting. After that, he stood on stage and laid down serious beatboxing tracks, which I never expected.

Before performing “King Without A Crown,” he gave the backstory to how the song came about to exist with his music. “I wrote this song in yeshiva…I got permission from the rabbi to go to Philly and record it in a studio…it was the only thing I listened to for a while.” It was really inspirational to hear he speak about his journey of coming from a strong religious upbringing to where he is now.

Throughout his set, he brought kids up and beckoned them to stage dive and then even did so himself (he returned to the stage without shoes and a sailor hat). For his last song, Matisyahu invited the audience to dance on stage with him to the point where there were more people on stage than there were on the ground.

To be honest, this performance was a real spectacle to me. If you saw how every single person in the audience was jamming and mouthing the words to his songs, you would be in awe because almost all of his songs tie in the Jewish faith…and these kids were just here trying to conceal their joints in the mass smothered in dreadlock/tie-dye/bandana hippie threads. Here is where you can truly understand how music is so universal and in that, the themes of faith, love, struggle, and finding your way is completely pervasive.

For infomration on Matisyahu check out his official website.

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