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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Matisyahu - theatre review - Sydney


Reviewed by lorin blumenthal

THERE was an odd blend of people at Surry Hills’ Gaelic Club on Monday night. An eclectic mix of kippa-wearing Jews, bogans and the funky underground beanie-wearers who generally frequent the venue.

MatisyahuThe sell-out audience were there for Matisyahu, a Chassidic reggae artist, who is currently in the midst of his first whirlwind Australian tour. The performance, which will be followed by shows in Melbourne and Auckland, is hot on the heels of the singer’s acclaimed set at the Splendour in the Grass music festival in Byron Bay on Sunday.

Despite the hype, the Sydney concert had a slow start, with the Australian audience taking a while to adjust to the bearded, 1.9-metre-tall reggae artist singing about “the Lord” with a Jamaican accent and a deadpan expression.
One audience member commented, “If it was anyone else but a Chassidic Jew singing this kind of thing I wouldn’t be that impressed. It seems like a bit of a gimmick.”

But by the time the 27-year-old singer, born Matthew Paul Miller, got to his hit song, King Without a Crown, he had won his audience over. The masses were bopping in time to reggae beats, nodding their heads as if in agreement to Matisyahu’s refrain, “I want Moshiach now” (even if they didn’t know what it meant), while the singer danced like Tevye after too many vodkas.

Some Jewish audience members had heard very little of his music and were at the concert simply for the spectacle, others sang along to his every word, a difficult task due to a combination of the pace at which he sang and the acoustics of the venue.

Some non-Jewish audience members said they had heard his music on Triple J and barely seemed to notice when he threw the occasional Hebrew prayer into his repertoire.

Towards the end of the concert, Matisyahu reached out to the audience, telling them that Jews believe in the importance of prayer, especially in groups.

“If you look at what is happening in the Middle East, they really need our prayers,” he said. The crowd, which included Israeli artist Old Man River, let out a unanimous roar.

“It’s amazing that he puts on a yarmulke and gets out there,” remarked a fan after the show.

“He’s a good ambassador for our people, he shows there is a spectrum within Judaism. He makes a lot of Jews proud to be Jewish,” said another.

Matisyahu was raised in New York in a liberal Jewish family and became a ba’al t’shuva (a Jew who has returned to Orthodoxy) at the age of 22. He released his first album, Shake off the Dust ... Arise in 2004 and his next album, Live at Stubb’s, has sold more than 500,000 copies to date. His latest album, Youth, reached number four on the American Billboard Charts. Matisyahu cites influences as diverse as Bob Marley, Phish and Outkast.

Matisyahu’s Youth is available now through Red Label/Sony BMG.


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