Thursday, June 26, 2008

Review of Matisyahu’s performance at the Pageant

The last time I saw Matisyahu in St. Louis, he attracted what must have been half of the religious community in St. Louis; the young, the old, and everyone in between had come to see this ‘hassidic reggae superstar’. I suppose at the time I wasn’t as surprised by the number of orthodox Jews there as I was the number of non-Jews in the audience. I figured, here is a guy with a gimmick that wouldn’t really appeal to anyone outside of the Jewish community. Time has proven me quite wrong.

When Matisyahu first emerged on the scene, his music was most easily classified as pop-reggae, with influences from Bob Marley, whom he shouts out in ‘Close My Eyes’ as well as jam band Phish, whose tours he followed in his pre-hassid days. His Jamaican-style raps, or ‘toasts’ have made their way into American pop music through the likes of Sean Paul, and add a melodic quality to otherwise rhythm-based rapping.
In a near-capacity show at the Pageant on a Wednesday night, Matisyahu brought his blend of Phish-style jam-rock, reggae, and beat-boxing to the masses. This time around, crowd reflected the diverse population of St. Louis. This is not to say that there weren’t large numbers of MOTs in attendance, but rather that Matis’ appeal has clearly transcended the ethno-cultural-religious line.
The Pageant’s dance floor was packed so tight, it was more constricting than a bar-mitzvah boy’s necktie, but that didn’t stop the mostly high-school-aged attendees from jumping around in enthusiastic appreciation of Matisyahu’s mix of Jewish themes, Hassidic melodies and niggunim with rock, reggae, and hip hop musical sensibilities.
The highpoint of every Matisyahu show occurs as the band’s energy swells and Matis belts out the Shema, hashem substitutions included. As the set wound down, Matisyahu began pulling people from the crowd onto the stage, until the stage overflowed with dancing bodies. He might not be Shomer Negiyah any more, but he can still draw a crowd and rock a show.

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