Photos courtesy of Greg Notch | notch.org
Some stories seem like you’ve heard them before. But that’s probably not the case with Matisyahu’s. As a teenager on Phish tour, Matthew Miller had an interest in hip-hop and reggae. Later he grew interested in the strict Lubavitch Hasidic sect of Judaism and joined a synagogue where his musical ambition was encouraged. Soon enough Miller had a talented backing band and—under the name Matisyahu—he became an engaging performer of his own mash-up of dancehall, hip-hop, reggae and rock. About a year ago, Matisyahu decided to go beardless, saying, “No more Chassidic reggae superstar. Sorry, folks, all you get is me…. I am reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and my divine mission.” But despite the change in his appearance, Matis’s music remains as good as ever: His fourth LP, Spark Seeker (stream it below), debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Reggae Chart earlier this year, and this weekend Matisyahu (above, doing “Happy Hanukkah” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno) closes out his Festival of Light tour with two shows, tomorrow night at Terminal 5, followed by an acoustic set on Sunday at the Capitol Theatre.
If anything, 2011 has been a year of many unsuspected news stories—leaders of countries have fallen, protests filled streets around the world and Matisyahu shaved his iconic beard. Call it the tweet heard ’round the world, as last Tuesday Matisyahu shared a picture of his newly shaven face on Twitter, leaving many fans wondering if this marked the end of his 10-year association with Chassidic Judaism. But beard or no beard, Matisyahu proved on Tuesday night at Music Hall of Williamsburg that his Jewish faith is still integral to his life, pulling out all the stops to celebrate Hanukkah on his second of eight shows scheduled to celebrate the Festival of Lights.
And what better way to celebrate the Festival of Lights than with a gigantic disco ball dreidel that splashed the Music Hall with a beautiful ocean of color, bringing everyone in the room to pull out their phones and snap pictures of this most epic of dreidels? Top it all off with the lighting of a waist-high menorah, Matisyahu twirling around the stage like a skanking ballet dancer and the general feeling of joyous revelry and you’ve got one hell of a Hanukkah celebration. With all this excitement, it may have been easy to overlook Matisyahu’s music. But the sheer dynamism of his genre-blurring set was a spectacle in itself. Jumping from moments of reggae, rap, guitar jams, dub, dubstep and back (sometimes in the same song), Matisyahu’s ability to find the intersection of these genres has long been described as his greatest musical asset. Much to his credit, Matisyahu’s drummer Joe Tomino did a superb job holding together the band through this journey of genres.
Perhaps as a result of this eclectic mix of genres, the crowd was equally eclectic—a healthy mix of dreadlocks and yarmulkes, fans both young and old of all races, backgrounds and creeds. Matis’s set featured a well-spread sampling of his seven-year career, playing favorites “King Without a Crown,” “Jerusalem” and “One Day.” He kicked off his encore beatboxing over a cellist he met in the subway on the way to the concert. Likely improvised, it was strikingly beautiful. And whatever this new beardless phase means for his spiritual development, it seems that in every other way Matisyahu still has a strong grasp on his musical virtuosity that fans from all walks of life have learned to love. —Dan Rickershauser
The now beardless Matisyahu plays Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight and tomorrow, but Thursday’s show at Webster Hall is already sold out. If you don’t already have tickets, you’ve got one more chance, though, because The House List is giving away two of them. So if you’d like to go, make sure you try to Grow a Pair. It’s easy. Just fill out the form below, being sure to include your full name, e-mail address, which show you’re trying to win tickets to (Matisyahu, 12/22) and a brief message explaining why you deserve to go. Eddie Bruiser, who’s full of holiday cheer, will notify the winner by Thursday. Good luck.
Soulive—Alan Evans (drums), Neal Evans (Hammond B3) and Eric Krasno (guitar)—formed in the late ’90s and has been bringing its own bluesy, jammy brand of jazz, funk, classic rock and R&B to the dancing masses ever since. Krasno joined the brothers Evans for a recording session in Woodstock in 1999, which eventually became their first EP, Get Down! A host of discs has followed, including last year’s Rubber Soulive, which, as you can imagine, reinterpreted the Beatles. But despite the trio’s recorded virtuosity, far and away the best way to experience these guys is live. And on that note, you’re in luck because Bowlive 2 starts tonight. That’s right: Soulive (above, doing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” with Nigel Hall) plays Brooklyn Bowl 10 times between now and 3/12. And as always, there will be special guests galore, like Maceo Parker and Lettuce (tonight), Bernie Worrell and Corey Glover (3/3), Robert Randolph (3/4-5), John Scofield, Ivan Neville and Kofi Burbridge (3/8), Neville, Burbridge and Oteil Burbridge (3/9), Karl Denson and Van Hunt (3/10-11) and Matisyahu (3/12). So put on your dancing shoes or bowling shoes and prepare to get down.
Tags: Bernie Worrell, Bowlive, Brooklyn Bowl, Corey Glover, Ivan Neville, John Scofield, Karl Denson, Kofi Burbridge, Lettuce, Maceo Parker, Matisyahu, Nigel Hall, Oteil Burbridge, Preview, Robert Randolph, Soulive, Van Hunt, Video
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As the snow came down last night, Matisyahu graced the stage at Mercury Lounge for an intimate show billed as Cloud Runner, but thought of as Matisyahu and Friends. Noah Lubin, a singer-songwriter-guitarist who’d met Matisyahu in Jerusalem, was the first friend to appear. The pair did two songs, the second of which, an elegant tune possibly called “Babylon,” is so new they had to read the lyrics off a cell phone.
As Lubin departed, Aaron Dugan (guitar), Jason Fraticelli (bass), Mark Guiliana (“the best drummer in the world,” per Matisyahu) and Rob Marscher (keys) arrived. The crowd gave the guitarist and bassist some good-natured grief for hailing from Philly, and Dugan’s Flyers snow hat occasionally elicited “Let’s go Rangers” chants. Surrounding yourself with four talented musicians is never a mistake, which was proved over nearly two hours of an interesting selection of new songs, covering a larger musical terrain than the usual blend of reggae and hip-hop.
There were definitely some dance numbers that got people moving, but perhaps taking a cue from Matisyahu’s inner Phish fan, the group, at times, was in full-on jam-band mode, with its singer, eyes closed, nodding and swaying to the spaciest parts. Near the end, Lubin returned to play a new tune called “Daniel,” although Matis thought it was titled “The Lion’s Den.” The chorus: “Daniel in the lion’s den/ Where only God can save my soul” revealed the confusion. After a short break, Cloud Runner returned for a rare Mercury Lounge encore and did a really nice take on the Grateful Dead’s “He’s Gone.” And then the smiling fans stepped straight into a storm. —R. Zizmor
(Cloud Runner plays The Bowery Ballroom tonight.)
Hanukkah approaches, which means it’s time for the return of Matisyahu and his Festival of Light. He hits Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday for a sold-out show. And since it’s the start of the giving season, The House List is in a giving mood, offering up two tickets. Want to Grow a Pair? Then fill out the form below, listing your full name, e-mail address, which show you’re trying to win tickets to (Matisyahu, 12/4) and a brief message explaining why you deserve a Hanukkah miracle. Eddie Bruiser, who thinks potato pancakes should be available all year round, will notify the winner by Friday. Good luck.
Matisyahu’s fourth annual Festival of Light is currently in full swing, and The House List is giving away two tickets to his show at Music Hall of Williamsburg this Saturday. (Travis McCoy, of Gym Class Heroes, opens.) Want to go? Then try to Grow a Pair. Just fill out the form below, listing your name, e-mail address, which show you’re trying to win tickets to (Matisyahu, 12/19) and a brief message explaining your interest in a mashup of Judaism, reggae and hip-hop. Eddie Bruiser, who patiently awaits your answers, will notify the winner by noon on Friday. Good luck.
Matisyahu is known for combining his religious devotion with a unique blend of reggae, rock and hip-hop. His third studio album, Light, came out in August. And beginning tomorrow, he’s back in NYC for eight shows as part of his fourth annual Festival of Light: four shows at Webster Hall—with the Glitch Mob on 12/10, with John Brown’s Body and Dynasty on 12/12, with Dub Trio on 12/13 and with Brothers Past on 12/14—and four shows at Music Hall of Williamsburg—with Rana on 12/16, with Kid Koala on 12/17, with Travis McCoy on 12/19 and with Kevin Devine on 12/20. In advance of this epic run, Matis took the time to answer five questions for The House List.
Which band (or bands) that you listened to growing up do you still listen to?
What’s the toughest part of playing New York City?
My cousins giving me shit after the show for not calling them up on stage.
What’s your biggest nonmusical talent?
Rollerblading. When I was about 13, I’d ride backward down the steps in Central Park and hold on to taxis and buses and stuff.
Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
Yes, there is no substitute for authenticity.
It’s 4 a.m. and last call has come and gone. What’s your next move?
Go to Rabbi Korn’s house, crack open a bottle of Russian vodka and talk about how God could let the Holocaust happen. Then walk to the mikvah on the Lower East Side and wait for the old Russian guy to let me in. Then I’d sit in the mikvah ’til shacrit (morning prayers), then pray at the closest shul. Then barf. —R. Zizmor
As summers typically go, this one has been on the weak side so far in New York City. But last night’s show at SummerStage in Central Park was an early highlight in what still remains a long list of outdoor summer concerts in the Big Apple. As the last bit of sunlight pushed its way over the tops of buildings and through the Central Park foliage, opener Umphrey’s McGee finished their set with a long and wonderful cover of the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Their energetic jam-band sound was a perfect warm-up to the laid-back headliner.
The White Plains, N.Y., transport Matisyahu filled what felt like the whole park with his uniquely branded reggae. Spinning in circles and dancing in between verses, his joyous performance carried well into the excited crowd. There was nothing over the top about his set, but there didn’t need to be. His backing band never strayed from their task of chugging out reggae beat after reggae beat, executed well by each member. And Matisyahu never missed a step, perfectly rhyming through a set that included the hits like “Youth,” “Jerusalem,” and “King Without a Crown” that made him a household name in 2006. When the sun was long gone, he wrapped up his set, sending everyone home well aware that summer is here. —Sean O’Kane
Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com
Some stories seem like you’ve heard them before. But that’s probably not the case with Matisyahu’s. As a teenager on Phish tour, Matthew Miller had an interest in hip-hop and reggae. Later he grew interested in the strict Lubavitch Hasidic sect of Judaism and joined a synagogue where his musical ambition was encouraged. Soon enough Miller had a talented backing band and—under the name Matisyahu—he became an engaging performer of his own mash-up of dancehall, hip-hop, reggae and rock.
Umphrey’s McGee, the progressive-rock group that began at the University of Notre Dame, is part jam (their live shows feature extended onstage improvisation) and part ham (their first studio release was titled Greatest Hits, Vol. III). The band allowed taping of its shows from the very beginning, and as those shows were traded across the country, Umphrey’s earned a following in places the band hadn’t even played yet. They’ve been a national touring band ever since.
What, you ask, does one have to do with the other? They’re both playing SummerStage this Thursday, July 9th. Check out this video of Umphrey’s McGee playing “Made to Measure,” the first song of their most-recent studio album, Mantis. Tickets are still available for Thursday’s show, and if you are, too, get yourself to Central Park.