Matisyahu Makes Music at Monmouth

Rapper Matisyahu played Pollak Theater on Dec. 5.

When Brooklynite Matthew Paul Miller first burst onto the international music scene in the early 2000s, he was not known as Matthew Paul Miller at all—instead, by his Hebrew name Matisyahu, as a Hasidic reggae superstar. In a little under a decade, from his 2005 “Live at Stubb’s” album to this year’s “Spark Seeker,” so much has changed in Matisyahu’s personal and professional life.

While he might have changed his sound (“[Spark Seeker] is definitely pushing the boundaries of what I’ve done before,” he said.) and traded in his long beard and yarmulke for a clean shave and short, graying locks, one thing has remained the same along the way—his mission to provide youth of all backgrounds with interesting, inspirational music.

Matisyahu’s acoustic event, presenting his fourth studio album at Pollak Theater, was a testament to this. Humbly seated on a stool, armed with a microphone, and accompanied by a thumping bass, finger-picking acoustic guitar, and cello, Matisyahu delivered a powerful blend of reggae, hip-hop, and rock to the crowd for two hours. As if this mix were not distinct enough, he managed to make an incredible display of beatboxing for prolonged periods of time and at varying speeds through a majority of the set list.

The beatboxing actually complimented the two guitars and cello, as it sounded like an instrument in and of itself. With all of these components working seamlessly together to create unique sounds and emotions, every single song became an intricate and intimate arrangement.

Although Matisyahu has shed his distinct traditional garb, Jewish themes still play an important role in his music. Throughout the concert he intertwined his English lyrics with Hebrew and Yiddish ones. In these languages, he encouraged every member of the audience to seek the innate spark or truth within themselves, to let go of what they know, and to open their eyes, ears, and minds to the world around them.

During the latter half of the concert, Matisyahu introduced “a very special friend from Jerusalem” onto the stage, saxophonist Daniel Zamir. This talented musician was actually one of the many artists invited by Matisyahu to a recording studio in Israel to play music and help him develop “Spark Seeker.” Appropriately, Zamir accompanied the rest of the band during “Jerusalem,” an older track from Matisyahu’s 2006 album titled “Youth.” The soulful blaring of his saxophone added to the eclectic mixture of instruments at the show.

The acoustic evening, dubbed the “Festival of Light” to correspond with Hanukkah, definitely lived up to its name. Throughout the show, lights in gradients of all colors of the spectrum shone on Matisyahu and his band and changed with each song to portray that particular melody’s passion, solemnity, happiness, hope, and other emotions. They gently throbbed on and off to match the pulsating of Matisyahu’s beatboxing at the conclusion of most of his songs, which created a very distinct ambience.

Perhaps most notably, a giant three-dimensional disco dreidel hung from the center of the Pollak ceiling, reflecting the vibrant lights onto the crowd and casting interesting shadows of the performers onto the walls of the theater.

It seemed the entire audience was mesmerized by Matisyahu’s performance and was eager for more music. During the lull between songs, some fans shouted out requests for what they wanted to hear next. Several others proclaimed their love for Matisyahu at the top of their lungs, to which the artist laughed and casually replied, “Thank you. We love you, too.”

This kind of approachable demeanor is what makes Matisyahu so accessible to the youth he strives to reach. Because he is responsive to and conversational with them—in person and in concert—he does not seem out of place when he calls them to action through his music and lyrics.

At the end of the concert, he acquiesced to the crowd’s demand for an encore with “Sunshine,” the first single off of “Spark Seeker.”

If you did not get a chance to attend Matisyahu’s performance at Pollak Theater, be sure to check out the acoustic sessions of his “Spark Seeker” album to get a feel of what it was like!

PHOTO TAKEN from kickkicksnare.com