Pompano Beach, FL - Matisyahu's Hebrew Lyrics Leave Audience Clueless
Pompano Beach, FL - Matisyahu kicked off his U.S. tour at Pompano Beach Amphitheater Saturday night venturing, not always compellingly, into new musical territory, mixed with the reggae-dub style rap that the devout Jewish artist has become known for. Matisyahu’s intensity in performance, and the way he addresses profound themes were impressive; musically, he sometimes left something to be desired.
The tall, lanky rapper and singer took the Amphitheater’s stage a little after 9 p.m. under a miraculous-seeming (considering recent downpours) clear sky, well after sunset and the end of Shabbat, wearing a long black coat and shirt over a tallit, or fringed prayer shawl, and a black yarmulke over long hair, all typical of the devout form of Judaism Matisyahu follows. He often sang swaying forward and back as if praying, and later in the concert, sometimes vocalized wordlessly, as if praying or meditating, while his band thundered and echoed behind him.
It was hard to tell how much the audience at the approximately two-thirds full amphitheater—mostly white, ranging from tattooed 20-somethings (one man had a Jewish star under his left ear) to families with young children to older folks—understood Matisyahu’s complex religious references on songs like the hypnotic, bass-heavy Warrior, in which he sings about returning the Jewish diaspora to the king. There didn’t seem to be anyone dressed with Matisyahu’s devout trappings, though there were plenty of alternative band T-shirts and ones with irreverent Judaic-pop culture jokes like ‘‘Jew So Crazy’’ or Rastar with the Jewish star. A dense crowd down front pumped fists and jumped to the beat, but Matisyahu lost a good part of the audience by the ambling end of the show.
Matisyahu included four songs from his upcoming album, Light, due out Aug. 25, in his 10-song, more than 90-minute long set that also included older songs Jerusalem, Time of Your Song, Youth, Chop Em Down and King Without a Crown. Live, the new songs tilted toward hard, thundering rock meshed with spacey, echoing dub, with little of the melodic and musical experimentation heard on the new recording. The band, with guitar and keyboards added to Dub Trio’s guitar, bass and keyboards, filled the air with a dark, dense sound.
The lyrics to the new songs seemed to explore more universal kinds of spirituality and struggle. In the opening Escape, Matisyahu seemed to refer to religious extremity: ‘‘children taught to blow their brains out in the holy name . . . running for survival running from the rifle running for the Bible and against false idols.’’ In Smash Lies, he called for people to ‘‘wake up, stand up and jump off to this’’ and to ‘‘fight the foes’’ on the ``fields of greed.’‘
Matisyahu ventures effectively into singing on Light, but, judging from Saturday’s show, he’s not yet totally comfortable—or accomplished—singing live. On One Day, a lovely pop-world beat-reggae song from Light with a movingly rendered one-world, one-love message, he began singing quietly, in a near falsetto, only to have his voice crack. He did better when he began singing full out. The crowd swayed along uncertainly. One Day has a beautiful melody and easy rhythm, but Matisyahu’ live, dark, thundering, hard rock arrangement clouded what makes One Day most appealing.
Matisyahu was more confident in the rapid toasting and rapping he’s known for. There were times when his ability and intensity, and the intensity of the band, took the music to powerful heights. But there were also times when he seemed to go so deep into himself, vocalizing and swaying, that he seemed to drift away. He may have been in touch spiritually, but he lost connection with the audience.
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