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Matisyahu LIVE REVIEW - Club Nokia L.A. Live

By Mark Fisher
Published: Monday, August 16, 2010, at 09:39AM
Matisyahu at Club Nokia Mark Fisher

Matisyahu performs at Club Nokia L.A. Live on August 15, 2010.



If anyone knows the importance of live performance and improvisation, it’s Matisyahu. It’s been more than five years since the beat-boxing Hasidic Jew (born Matthew Paul Miller) released Live at Stubb’s, an album that gave us the undoubtedly catchy Top 40 hit “King Without A Crown.” That album reached #1 on Billboard’s Reggae Albums Chart and went on to sell over 700,000 copies. Since then, his follow-up Grammy-nominated studio album Youth was immediately certified Gold by the RIAA in 2006 and he even had the honor of opening up for Sting. Not bad for someone who dropped out of high school to follow Phish on tour.

The Jewish MC rolled back into Los Angeles last night in support of Light, the artist’s third studio album. While several fans of all ages were spotted proudly donning yarmulkes and tzitzis, religion and cultural differences were a non-issue as this diverse and mixed Club Nokia crowd was more interested in simply having a good time. Backed by his band (Brooklyn's The Dub Trio), Matis opened the set with the instrumental dubbed-out “Kodesh,” before appearing from the dark and dropping into “Time of Your Song” off last year’s Light. The tightly-knit jam session continued with the lively “Jerusalem,” followed by rocking renditions of “Darkness into Light” and “Youth.” The artist then flexed his old school hip-hop influences by delivering a brilliant breakdown of “Beat Box,” a skillful showcase that even Biz Markie or The Fat Boys would have approved and signed off on. He said very little or nothing between songs, allowing his energetic presentation to speak for itself.

Surprisingly, the fan-favorite “King Without a Crown” was unleashed mid-set, proving that the kosher-approved lyricist didn’t need to use an old bag of tricks to close the show. The crowd was even treated with a new untitled song that indicated Matisyahu will continue trekking with his solidly mixed bag of reggae, dancehall, rock, hip-hop, and folk, but perhaps not with material as mainstream and poppy as Light this time around. Ironically, the hour and a half set was closed out with “One Day,” a song that was recorded with Akon and used by NBC for their 2010 Winter Olympics campaign.

While naysayers may call Matisyahu a “one-hit wonder” or novelty act, his ability to entertain and deliver live in concert is undeniably good. His set order changes from show to show, which may suggest he can maintain longevity in the future as a successful touring act amongst road mavericks such as Michael Franti & Spearhead or even The Roots (pre-Jimmy Fallon). While Matisyahu may not mask his faith (evident by his appearance and lyrics), he has proven his music can be universally interpreted and accepted by many around the globe. Whatever your beliefs may be, anyone that can bring a diverse and ethnically-mixed L.A. crowd together with positive messages and uplifting music definitely deserves credit and praise in today’s world, especially when it’s done well.

Matisyahu will return to Stubb's in Austin this week to record Live at Stubb's: Vol II, which is set for release in early 2011.

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