September 19, 2014
When I first heard Matisyahu was coming to Charlotte, 10 years after his breakout hit, ‘King Without A Crown’, was released, I was very guarded on what to expect from his performance. Matisyahu is known for his Hasidic yarmulkes, wild beard and a voice that so distinctly commands his songs’ spiritually-inspired reggae. How would his voice and his morality stand up after all this time?
The band starts with a slow, humble beat as a clean-shaven man emerges from the back of the stage chanting imploringly to the music behind him with the roaring audience in front of him. His voice is low and steady, almost meek, as he builds a plea for his crowd to take a journey with him.
The intro lyrics are reflective and confident, persuading his body into the ebb and flow of the music and moment. Even if you’re not a fan, you catch yourself shifting your hips swaying to his rhythm and accept the course of the path he’s justifying.
However, a few songs in (some of which clearly have backtracked vocals, a realization that I find insulting) Matisyahu is languid. I stand in the audience and feel that I’m more in a passionless lazy fog than on the heartfelt trek I had just recently signed up for. The band weaved a redundant, composed beat as Matisyahu slumped his shoulders and turned his back on the audience to watch the music. I wonder if this is a place he’s more comfortable with; side-stage and out of the light. Maybe he isn’t the compelling voice of a torchbearer but more of an idle searcher within his own music. In a feeble attempt to command his performance and become leader, he employed a funky hip-heavy dance move that comes off flashy but disinterested. During this interlude of ‘what’s-going-on-how-did-we-get-here’ I just can’t help but think, “It seems such a shame to surrender that remarkable voice and rely so heavily on the band. I did not expect that.”
This new front man has abandoned his position as shepherd of the crowd. He continues to push through the motions trying to find his own way back on the path without giving away his clumsy pandering grasps at a lost cause. As this search in the dark continues, the band finds itself and bellows with primal, heart-thumping drumbeats, confident bass and extends a hand to their singer and audience. Somewhere at the urging of this aural revival, the weary leader seems to fade into the darken lights and showed only a slight emergence of faith within himself, his music and the inebriated throng before him.
The lights erupt in flames of orange and red; like a man tortured with where he has found himself stuck, Matisyahu lets out a groan that pierces through the room. The music whimpers as Matisyahu croons, “I’ll be by your side.” A fantastic rush of keys whips through as the bass and guitar shimmer in patient harmony. I hear the leader, resurrected, reminding the congregation below him that, “Death breathes life into some things.”
Continuing with this spirited momentum, Matisyahu paces the stage finding forte in staccato and purposeful lyrics. He effortlessly breathes out lessons learned and difficult tribulations passed. This is the moment of the performance I’ve been waiting for. The organic, resuscitating guide of words, rhythm and power all combining to lift the audience out of a haze, a showcase of faith and creation that Matisyahu deserves to be revered for. Within this show of vulnerability, the lights abruptly exchange their heavenly blue hue to drench the singer in a deep blood red. A stark contrast emerges with the audience and band behind him, leaving Matisyahu alone in the center of the stage. Without a warning, I find myself wondering if I’ve been sharing his journey and dream of fame and fortune, or if I’ve been a spectator to his spiraling nightmare storyline.
Listen to Akeda by Matisyahu