Barnes & Noble Union Square, New York, NY
July 24th, 2012
Concert Review: Matisyahu at Barnes & Noble Union Square
The idea of a musician overhauling his or her persona is nothing new. We have seen it from pop stars to longtime rockers, who like us everyday folk manage to evolve over time. When fans see these changes we are naturally shocked at first, but hopefully continue to support the artist we believed in from the get go. For years, Matisyahu was known the world over as the first “Chassidic Rapper.” The young man garnered much acclaim because of his raw talent, but also for his highly unique persona formed by his Judaic beliefs. Yet change was something the thirty-three year old musician craved and over the past year, Matisyahu has shed the Chassidic system in order to reclaim himself- a bold move for any man, let alone a worldwide recording artist. On July 17th, Matisyahu released his fourth studio album- “Spark Seeker”- to a hungry fan base. In celebration of the new record, fans and new listeners alike gathered at Barnes & Noble’s Union Square outpost on Wednesday night for a highly intimate performance and album signing by Matisyahu and his extremely tight band, Dub Trio from Brooklyn.
Many people in attendance had only seen a few images online of Matisyahu out of his traditional Chassidic garb and beard prior to this performance. And as the clock struck 6pm we looked around at an unfamiliar looking, clean shaven rapper set to hit the stage. Donning sunglasses and all smiles, his attitude transferred to the packed Barnes & Noble space immediately, with many in the crowd standing to cheer. This was to be a stripped down set, featuring some classics but with a defined taste of the artist’s latest release. And after a quick yet very friendly introduction, Matisyahu launched into a solo beatboxing session, leading to everyone in the room joining in the groove and bobbing our heads in accordance. Dub Trio joined in with their signature style, kicking off a nearly hour long set of infectious beats.
A defining highlight of this set came in the form of “Live Like A Warrior.” The new and highly up tempo track features Matisyahu’s unique blend of reggae, rap, and rock in such a satisfying way, that I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t a major single for him in the weeks to come. While the song is pleasing to the ears, it’s the message of the song that really wraps it up as a flawless tune, especially when played live. The tune exudes positivity and the resilience of inner strength when life becomes to hard, a true to heart song from an artist who has endured increased criticism in recent months resulting from his personal awakening. Later in the set his performance of “Sunshine,” a song dedicated to his son, revealed his raw passion for what’s important to him, his family. These intimate sessions tell a great deal about the artist that you simply fail to recognize from live performances in large theaters. Matisyahu’s stripped down set here was no exception.
While there was no shortage of heartfelt moments throughout the performance, there were plenty of humorous ones as well. Before Matisyahu launched into “Obstacles,” he joked about how the band likes to change the titles of many of the songs. For this particular tune they had re-dubbed it “Popsicles.” Everyone, especially the band had a nice laugh at this. Toward the end of the set, Matisyahu held up a broken piece of the stool he was sitting on, claiming he rocked it too hard and he owed the bookstore another stool, again lending itself to be one of the show’s lighter moments. The band looked totally comfortable on stage and managed to play slightly longer then their allotted time to the pleasure of everyone in the house. When it was finally time to close the set, Matisyahu launched into “One Day,” a huge fan favorite and a hit from 2009′s “Light.” The tune is a poignant, introspective one about a time where he hopes that peace will come and when war and heartache will cease. His voice and message were both aligned in a passionate harmony. No matter what he looks like or chooses to believe in, he is a superior talent with a truly noble message. We whole-heartily suggest you make your way over to Randall’s Island this weekend and catch him at the Catalpa NYC Music Festival on a grand stage. You will be blown away.
- Jay Rubin