From the opening bass and drum version of RastaMan Chant
“I hear the words of the higher man say
Babylon your throne gone down…
One bright morning when my work is done
I go fly away home
I say fly away home to Zion”
to the closing lines of King Without a Crown, Matisyahu is faithful to the cause. That cause is the cause of encouraging his listeners to stay on the narrow road of spiritual hope for the coming promised land.
I would like to give some overall impressions and some conclusions before I go through the set song by song. First, the band is fantastic. Drummer Johan David is simply top notch. He is very hard hitting and very precise. Together with Josh Werner on bass and Aaron Dugan on guitar, I think Matisyahu has a lot to be thankful for. The long term viability of Matisyahu as more than a pop star lies precisely in the musicianship of his band and Matisyahu’s ability to convey a spiritual message that resonates with people of faith. After seeing Matisyahu live I think it is possible that he and his band are further along than U2 was after two albums. I make this comparison in the hope that Matis and Co. can stay faithful to the message and take their own message to heart and keep on pressing toward the goal of the upward call. If they do, I believe we might see Matisyahu become a truly inspirational music in the vein of U2 or dare I say …no I don’t dare say it.
Overall, the first half of the show was better than the second. The first half was composed of a series of songs that thematically built upon the theme of the journey of the spiritual people in a land of illusion toward the promised land or holiness and reconciliation with God the Father.
The First Half of the Set
After Rasta Man Chant Matisyahu went into This is Your Song. From the start it is clear that the band likes to push the tempo a bit, and the grooves do sound a little too rock for such a groovy style of music. The music is more groovy when the music goes into the more sparse dub style. At the faster tempos, the swing in the lyrics is lost and it feels like Matisyahu has to rush the lyric to fit it all in. Nonetheless, the crowd was with the lyric every step of the way as was evident in “Fire of Heaven / Alter of Earth”. When the bridge came around the sold out crowd could be heard above the music.
Fires burning Flames are dancing Don't burn the house down, lo
Heavenly fire only resides On an altar made from the ground
The crowd most certainly is a key player in the overall mode of the evening. This is not your normal reggae or rap crowd. The crowd is brought to its height of participation and enthusiasm not when the music starts jumping but when the lyrics resonant with the Jewish experience.
Matisyahu and the band need to be confident in their real message because it is the praise and the encouragement that moves the crowd. As the set started to gather steam so did the clarity and momentum of the message. From where I am at spiritually it was this portion of the show that reveals the message of what can make Matisyahu more than just a rapper or a pop star.
Chop ‘em Down
Here was the meat of the show.
Chop ‘em Down tells the story of the journey of the people of Israel from Joseph to Moses and makes an analogy for today. The modern world is the new wilderness and the new Egypt and as the song saws,
Its from the forest itself comes the handle for the ax.
Chop ‘em down chop ‘em down.
Such lyrics are calling the people to keep up the fight and sustain day by day the progress through the wilderness into the promised land. Don’t turn back. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t turn your back on your heritage and become like the secular world but keep the hope alive. God is faithful. We shall be “re-united like the days of our youth”. (from Warrior)
Next came Exaltation with its very straight ahead praise
This was then followed by Indestructible which though a so so song on Youth was, I believe, the best song of the show.
Matisyahu sang the last verse a few times through. A picture of the hero’s of the faith from Daniel to David.
Release me from their schemes
My distress you will relieve
Shield me on the path that's dark and slippery
They seek deception and futility I stand with integrity
Sneak to the roof of that building
Don't want nobody here to see me
To say that I'm living in a fantasy
But I believe in find and keep
And I plead in sincerity
Wont you utterly remove the cloud hangin over me
Wont cha wave that decree in the shade of your wings
Shelter me from the wicked who have plundered me
From my mortal enemies wont cha shield me
The Second Half
The second half of the show had a string of forgettable jams and a, share the stage rap, with some body whose name I didn’t catch. This part of the show would have been perfect for Aish Tamid and What I’m Fighting For but no such luck…
Tto get the crowd back, the set turned to Youth. This version of Youth was noticeably light and joyful as opposed to the more aggressive and forceful album version. By this time, Matisyahu seemed a bit tired. Maturity will bring Matisyahu the confidence that intimacy or intensity are needed to really move a crowd the size of the Greek Theatre.
After Youth came a less than perfect version of Jerusalem. Placing Jerusalem here at the end of the set is a perfect fit, but the beauty of the rhythm and the lyrics was undermined by another rushed tempo. Again, I think Matisyahu needs to learn that his strength is not in making a song rock but in the inspiration of his syncopated vocal rhythms and the passionately felt and delivered lyrics. In many instances, rushing the tempo undermined the beauty and the groove and certainly did with this my personal favorite Matisyahu song.
After Jerusalem, Matisyahu attempted a beat box that lasted about 30 seconds. It appeared that he was just too tired to pull a full beat box off. So after this low light, the set ended.
The crowd brought Matisyahu and the band back out for a wonderful encore of “Lord lift me Up” and “King without a Crown”. As an intro to "Lord Lift me Up”, Matisyahu began with a blessing and some soulful chanting. Again, he needs to find his home in this aspect of the music. The chants are great. The dub plus chant plus freestyle prayers definitely work. It is when he is more spiritual and more traditional that the beauty of the music and the message shines. “King Without a Crown” was of course fantastic and awe inspiring but not quite as tight and inspiring as the ‘Live at Stubb’s” version.
Overall, I loved the show but wished that Matisyahu fully embraced his "yearning of a prophet" message of encouragement and prayer that is at the heart of his music. I plan on attending every show he gives for many years to come. The question still remains as to if indeed this new voice of inspiration finds the full manifestation of his calling to encourage people of faith to seek the promised land.
God Bless, brad