Jun. 2, 2009
The Scenestress and I got hooked up big-time with an opportunity to see Matisyahu perform a couple songs for a radio spot on WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa yesterday. The tall, bearded Hasidic reggae star waved us in the studio with a big grin as his band finished setting up. They played two songs from their upcoming album, Light, which is due out August 25. The first single off the release, a tune called “One Day,” is unusually accessible as far as modern reggae goes, which means it’s bound to earn some substantial radio play. The second song they played, my favorite of the two, was called “Thunder,” and featured a more traditional Matis sound with nature-tinged lyrics and an uplifting vocal melody that gave it a definite Bob Marley vibe. After the radio show Matisyahu signed some copies of the new single for us and we had a quick chat about my borderline unhealthy obsession with “Live at Stubb’s” when it came out in 2005. Unlike the usual “I’m smiling and nodding but I don’t really care” attitude that you get from exploding artists in the prime of their careers, Matisyahu was refreshingly genuine in his demeanor and conversation. He has an air of peacefulness and righteousness in his personality that matches the message in his music.
After the radio show we made our way from Tampa to St. Pete to catch the real concert going down at Jannus Landing: a full set with Matisyahu backed by fellow Brooklyn-based reggae group Dub Trio, then a Lord-only-knows-what’s-in-store-for-us set from the legendary Les Claypool. Click through the break to hear about the concert and watch some of the videos I took:
The Matisyahu performance was a hop-around mess that topped my expectations even as a professed fan. Matis danced from stage left to right, only stopping to contemplate intricate vocal lines, which to him are more reverent prayers than showtime schticks. You really can’t get a sense of the talent it takes to be an amazing beat-boxer until you hear it live. The production process usually silences the short breaths and imperfections that make you realize that it isn’t a drumkit or a synthesizer you’re listening to. It’s just a guy and a microphone. Matisyahu and his tribe of Judaic hip-hoppers broke out both of the songs he played at the radio station, plus all the classics from his first two albums. Here’s some video from “One Day”:
The crowd was an eclectic mix of dreaded jam-dancing hippies, black Primus T-shirt sporting stoners, and a few kooky creatures that could have come straight out of a Primus video. Les Claypool appeared on stage wearing a long-nosed mask that conjured A Clockwork Orange and busted out a few hot slappers before revealing his signature ‘stach. He was backed by a beyond impressive line-up of clearly classically-trained musicians who all wore tuxes and face-disfiguring masks that made them look half Hanible Lector and half Pork Soda pig. A cellist, drummer and percussionist (who broke out a marimba, xylophone, tambourine and even a set of tablas) brought parts of old Primus songs to life with an almost surreal classiness. Here’s a video of Claypool sporting a pig mask as he bows over his upright:
Claypool switched instruments as often as facial identities and at one point came out with a monkey mask and a strange one-stringed upright-like instrument with a handle on the top that he used to tighten and loosen the string. He short-stroked the bow over the string as he levered the handle up and down to create some oddly appealing sounds. Here’s a video of Claypool playing this contraption before monkey-running off stage to let his drummers duel it out for the crowd: