Matisyahu – December 17th – The Ogden Theatre

Photos by Johne Edge

The Scene – When Matisyahu hit the music scene some critics, and a few Jewish friends of mine, thought it a novelty.  I mean who is really going to listen to a Hasidic Jew rocking a yarmulke, beat boxing, and singing in a Reggae style about faith and his life? After multiple gold albums and two live records, people came to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, this guy wasn’t a novelty at all.  It was no wonder then that The Ogden Theatre was all a-buzz about the fact that earlier that week, via a couple of bare faced photos on Twitter, Matis had announced he was no longer pursuing that spiritual path.  With “no more Chassidic reggae superstar,” what would become of the music, and what should the night’s sold out crowd at the Colfax venue expect?

The OpenerDubskin, the homegrown Colorado six piece, opened the night with their blend of Reggae, Hip-Hop, and Funk.  Soon after the doors opened, they filled the theater with conscious lyrics, catchy melodies and booty shaking rhythms.

Matisyahu: Matisyahu took to the stage minus his trademark Chassidic beard, dressed in black, and wearing a pair of aviators. Based on the lyrical content of the night’s first number “Open the Gates,” and the fact that he was still sporting a yarmulke and tzitzit, it was obvious that Matis had  not abandoned the spirituality of his Jewish faith. However, gone like the beard and the other orthodox rules that it represented, was Matisyahu’s original band. In its place was Dub TrioDub Trio appears on the Roir record label, a label famous for bands like Bad Brains, so it’s not surprising to learn that this band specializes in mostly instrumental Metal tinged with Electronic Dub.

Throughout the night drummer Joe Tomino pounded out rhythms that ranged from Bonham like rock assaults to spaced out spiraling Dub rhythms. Bassist Stu Brooks and guitarist Dave “DP” Holmes complete the trio and their superior musicianship, pedals, and effects created a wall of sound that I did not think could possibly come from just three people.  Musically the band does not detract from the message of Matisyahu’s music, instead it breathed new life into songs like “Darkness Into Light” and “Youth.”

As the show began, it didn’t take more than thirty seconds for Matisyahu to break into his signature ecstatic dance.  But with his locks newly shorn, there was little to keep his yarmulke from flying off.  This scene would repeat itself many times over the course of the evening, and each time it did Matis would whirl down to the floor and sweep it up and back onto his skull without missing a beat.  Another by-product of his recent shave was the revelation that Matisyahu smiles . . . a lot.  His boyish grin and unconscious lip biting in the midst of deep concentration left the girls behind me swooning.  “Omigod!  He’s hot,” they exclaimed more than once.  This left me shaking my head at the naysayers that claim that Matisyahu’s departure from the Orthodox community is career suicide.  On the contrary, he may just find himself attracting a new target audience.  Career speculation aside, one thing is certain, Matis has a new lightness and joy radiating from within him.

In his recent Twitter statement, he wrote, “I felt that in order to become a good person I needed rules—lots of them—or else I would somehow fall apart.  I am reclaiming myself.  Trusting my goodness and my divine mission.” And as he sang the lyrics, “lose your backpack filled with sand,” during the song “Sunshine,” it became evident that a weight has been lifted from his shoulders and that he is trusting in the goodness inside himself.

Sticking with the theme of trust, Matis literally placed his trust in the hands of his audience.  During the middle of the musical interlude for “Youth,”  he backed up in front of his drummer, felt the pulse of the crowd and then took off for the edge of the stage, diving into the center of the packed pit.  The devoted fans supported his crowd surfing ride all the way to the back of the first tier, before he managed to stand completely vertical atop them and trust fall backwards into their arms.  Although Matis has been performing stage dives for the last few years, I have never witnessed him do so, and the moment epitomized for me how the 32 year old has embraced a newfound freedom.  Maybe it was the contact high from the medicinal smoke in the air, but I could not wipe the perm-a-grin off of my face after that.  His joyfulness was contagious.

The last two songs before the encore,  “King Without a Crown” and “One Day,” gave Matis an opportunity to showcase his vocal talents and his Hazzan style of soulful prayer.  The diversity of Matisyahu’s vocal range could only be matched by the diversity of the crowd.  At one point I turned from the stage front to gaze out at the fans.  Young, old, black, white, clean shaven, dreaded, and everything in between seemed to be in the same breathless awe.  For a moment I forgot that I was inside the Odgen. It felt like heaven.

Energy: A+
Sound: A
Musicianship: A+
Stage Presence: A
Set / Light show: B

Overall: A