Plaza Live – Orlando, FL • 12.16.2015
by Bob Pomeroy
Matisyahu brought his Festival of Light tour to Plaza Live to celebrate both the holiday season and the ten years anniversary of his breakthrough, Live at Stubbs Vol. I. Matisyahu’s music has evolved as much as his image over the past decade. In the beginning, he was known as the Hasidic Jew, dancehall reggae star. His sound, like his spirituality, has become more inclusive over time. Matisyahu shaved his beard in 2011 when embraced a more universal form of Judaism. His music had embraced more experimental forms of dub, electronics, hip-hop and rock.
The first set found the band expanding and jamming on songs. Bassist/musical director Stu Brooks bass and dub effects laid a foundation for guitarist Aaron Dugan added leads and loping rhythms that complemented Rob Marscher’s keyboard textures. Matisyahu seemed to be enjoying his band’s experimentation, urging them on and taking an instrumental turn a few times with his beat boxing. At one point, he came around to the drum kit to play congas on a percussion duet with drummer, Tim Kelper. I recognized a few of the songs in the first set but I was mesmerized by the group’s sonic excursions. People did a lot of seat dancing; grooving on dubby, hip-hop, fun.
When the show resumed after the break, it seemed that part of the audience had been celebrating Purim instead of Hanukah. They came back so drunk they forgot their manners. After a bouncing, dancehall start that wound down to a quiet, spiritual chant in Hebrew, members of the audience bombarded Matisyahu with requests for their favorites. He wasn’t happy with that. He asked each band member if other artists get this kind of reaction. They assured him that they do.
The second set featured more of the introspective material from Akeda, “Broken Car” set the tone for the second set. The song has a laid-back groove and lyrics about making due with imperfection. My broken car will still get you there. It’s a great song with a great message, but it’s not “Sunshine”. Some folks in the audience went from requesting to demanding songs. Eventually, Matisyahu said that if people only came to hear two songs, they could leave now because they wouldn’t be playing them. He them broke into a cover of reggae classic, “Crazy Bald Heads”, and waved goodbye to those who walked out.
After “Crazy Bald Heads”, Matisyahu told those who remained, “sometimes you have to see who your friends are, we plan on doing this for a long time.” The remaining fans and the band were on the same page for the rest of the show. Matisyahu is on a musical and spiritual journey. It’s understandable that people like what they know, but it’s much more interesting to go along on the adventure.