Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Live: Marisyahu / Balkan Beat Box (3/7/06)

[Editor's note: While I missed out on Matisyahu's show in Kansas City, my friend Mark caught them a week later at New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom. The show celebrated that day's release of Matisyahu's new album Youth. As will be the custom at I Wonder Why We Listen to Poets... every once in awhile my friends will chime in with their thoughts on concerts, music, life, culture, etc. Here is Mark's take on Matis.]

It’s hard to figure out exactly what just happened. A Hasidic Jewish reggae/rapper isn’t something I’m that familiar with but there are definitely familiar points. A reformed Phish-head, some of that influence plays out in Matisyahu's music. The show opened with some very trippy guitar sounds, some light and smoke effects, and then some of Matisyahu’s high-pitched reggae yodels (what do you call those?).

As full disclosure, I’m not the most familiar with his songs – I’ve listened to Live at Stubb’s a bit but I wouldn’t say I know more than a few songs. It was the day his new album, Youth, came out so I may have been a little out of my element. However, each tune is really easy to get into, the way reggae usually is, with head bouncing and hip swaying and beats that make you feel good. Throughout the show I really wanted to be listening to the music while drinking a beer on someone’s porch in nice weather.

The one thing that was kind of a let down was that the energy wasn’t sustained all the way through. There were several times ("King Without a Crown," "Chop ‘Em Down," the encore) when everyone was flailing around and really upbeat. His beatbox showcase was incredible, kind of like Rahzel crossed with Yahweh and Michael Winslow from Police Academy.

There were some lulls though -- good chill music but it felt a little out of place. There was also a guest rapper that came on who I could have done without. He said he was from White Plains (not a good selling point if you’re trying for credibility as a rapper). The best thing that came out of that collaboration was that I definitely appreciated Matisyahu’s speed on the mic and his melodic voice. If that was the point, then I guess it was a success.

A big part of the let down could be the fact that I was one of the oldest people there. My brother (19) first told me about Matisyahu six months ago, and he was at this show. If I was a sophomore in college, this would definitely be an act that I would have heard about and gone to see. Unfortunately, that age has passed me by. Getting shoulder tapped [Ed. Note: I have no idea what this is!] is pretty fun, but standing next to high school kids that can’t handle their booze isn’t too great and that is the kind of crowd Matisyahu has right now.

When it comes down to it, it’s really good music to listen to, but in a live setting I just expect more. The beats are solid, the jams are ok, but when haven’t I heard better? Whenever I expected a soaring solo, it would end abruptly. Seeing Phish or Widespread or moe. so many times kind of overwhelms that part of my expectations.

Quick note on the opener, Balkan Beat Box: these guys started out like animals. There were six dudes – three horns, guitar, bass, drums. They were all over each other, playing some kind of Indian techno that was pretty addicting. Then they started playing with their computer and brought out a guy who could rhyme "Zion" with "Zion" and it went downhill. If they dropped that schtick, Balkan Beat Box wouldn't be half bad.

-- M. Graham, 3/8/06

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