Friday, February 24, 2006

Matisyahu live in Santa Cruz

If Matisyahu gets recognized only for his beat-boxing skills, then your boy is going to be a star.
Making his Santa Cruz debut on Thursday night to a sold out Civic Auditorium, the 26-year-old Hasidic Jewish reggae/rap wonderkind was clearly the main draw for the night.
Prior to the show, much was said about Santa Cruz homies Soul Majestic performing for the home team, and even the return of headliner Gregory Isaacs was also hyped up.
But for reals, this skinny Jewish kid from upstate NY, with his crow's nest for a beard, black yarmelkuh and stoic gaze, was about as anticipated as Barry Bonds taking a turn at a spring training batting practice.
That's not to say that the buzz surrounding "Matis" has been entirely positive. Most of the message board postings I've seen on have regarded whether his music can be taken seriously in spite of his spiritual imagery. The Village Voice used his album cover as the main artwork for its 15 worst music moments of 2005.
But watching him perform live, I questioned whether the editors has even bothered to crack their copy of the CD open.
Dressed in a wide brim hat, long-sleeve button up shirt with straps hanging from the bottom, and practical black slacks, "Matis" was greeted by a large roar from the crowd. His band, a five-piece that played with an inspired tightness, got the grooves going from jumpstreet.
As the crowd swelled with life, Matis would shift during his songs from a long breakdown and start singing acapella. Deftly, he would flip back into his patented scat/rap, which owes a little debt to Damian Marley. "Don't you see," he waxed. "That's not the way to beee."
Giving shout outs to Jeruselum and inviting German-born R&B/raggamuffin Gentleman to share the stage, Matis carried a universal irie vibe that was infections.
As heartfelt as his music was, he talked in a funny, almost shy nasal tone between songs. It revealed a certain humanity, sincerity that made you think this guy really isn't trying to be some sort charicature. But he brought me back to reality when he announced that his album was dropping March 7. Fortunately, he didn't try to beat the crowd over the head with the release date.
And then, when the crowd was taking a second to catch its breath, he drove into another musical breakdown and started beatboxing. Slow at first, then driving the beat until it sounded like a spit-kicking windmill. Mixing tongue-twisting melodies with deep bass drops, you got the feeling that he might be talking in tongues to alien b-boys. It was that rad.
The rest of the night preceded and proceded almost mechanically. Gregory Isaacs followed up Matis' set with a worman-like set. Dressed in a shimmering burgundy silk suit, he was a good compliment to his openers eyebrow raising talents. Isaacs reminded everyone how sexy they could be, and how reggae should be.
All swaying hips and rudeboy coo', he exuded smoove, even if he looked like he could be a grade school principal if he dressed more conservatively. Watching Isaacs, you got an image of what reggae is, while Matis gave you a glimpse of what reggae is about to become.

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