For some reason I had a hell of a time trying to give away my extra Matisyahu ticket for Sunday nights Commodore Ballroom performance. Even though Matisyahu and his backing band/openers Dub Trio had played in Vancouver just the year before, it seemed no one I knew was really aware of who Matisyahu was. To be fair, I wasnt sure what to expect from the American Hasidic Jewish Reggae beat-boxing musician, but the fact that Dub Trio was there was good enough for me.
Dub Trio, if you werent aware, are the purveyors of reggae-tinged dub mixed with hammered metal sludge – I guess you could say they started their own genre. Composed of guitarist DP Holmes, bassist Stu Brooks and drummer Joe Tomino, the Brooklyn-based band has been noisily infiltrating the music scene since their 2004 debut Exploring the Dangers Of and I knew I was in for a treat with their much-applauded live show. Plus, they werent just the opening band, they were Matisyahus backing band as well. If thats not a sign of powerhouse musicians, I dont know what is.
But Matisyahu wasnt as easily accepted into my musical database and obviously I wasnt the only one a bit confused.
People see Matisyahu standing there on the stage, a Commodore security guard told me, And they cant really make the connection between what they are seeing and what they are hearing.
But before I could see the juxtaposition for myself, it was time for Dub Trio.
Maybe we could get a few more people at the front, you know youre going to want to be up close for Matisyahu, Tomino grabbed a mic and told the crowd, which was an eclectic mix of the Jewish community, girls doing Jaegerbombs and guys in Bob Marley shirts.
A few people scuttled forward and joined the Dub Trio fans at the front, leaving a wide space on the floor behind them. I took my place in the photo pit and Dub Trio opened with the grinding, spacey Bay Vs. Leonard. In a matter of minutes, the crowd behind me swelled with drunken enthusiasm. Someone hucked a lime at me at some point, at other an entire glass was thrown on stage. In fact, the background noise to this show was the consistent sound of breaking glass.
The crowd could be forgiven for getting boisterous during Dub Trio. After all when this band really hits its metal mark, the effect is deafening. Tomino remarked to me earlier that they know when they are affecting an audience when you can hear absolute silence during some of their longer jams, when the delayed drum hits and pitch modulations are rolling in the air. Not this time. Any time the grind slowed and the more intricate sounds came into play, the crowd was filling the space with hooting and hollering.
The rowdiness continued when Matisyahu finally took to the stage. The first song, Kodesh, opened with the ancient, dreamy sound of Matisyahus chants and had him hiding in the shadows of the stage before he came out. The crowd went nuts, no small feat for a spiritual man performing the one love message of reggae.
This message came clear at the start when one flannel-shirted man with an army of dreads somehow catapulted past the barrier and on to the stage. Everyone froze, expecting some kind of altercation but Matisyahu calmly shook the intruders hand, whispered something in his ear and the man was soon jumping back into the audience, crowd surfing away with a huge grin on his face.
Obviously, Matisyahu had everyone, including me, enthralled. Yes, it was almost a novelty at first to see this tall, lanky Jewish man in his Adidas jacket with payot sideburns and a kippah on his head spouting out soulful lines that would have made Bob Marley proud. However, once you accepted it, it was nothing short of mind-blowing. The show just moved over you in waves, pulling at your emotional and auditory sensibilities in different directions.
Some songs like Youth had the audience singing along, hands waving, puffs of ganja (I had to) smoke floating up. In others like So High, So Low, we were treated to Matisyahus beat-boxing skills which drew wild yelps of awe and appreciation. And without fail, Stu Brooks bass shook the Commodore to its core. In fact, the plates and cutlery on the table next to me were leaping into the air with each bone-jarring hit and at times, Matisyahu himself was headbanging so hard that his kippah fell off.
Sure, sometimes the vibe lagged a bit when the band jammed on, but I think most people were simply entranced by the dreamlike sound. They certainly woke up when the band went off stage after the epic King Without a Crown I havent heard concertgoers cheer that loudly for an encore in a long time.
When it was finally over, two and a bit hours later, and the final notes of the hit One Day were left hanging, I couldnt help but pity the people who passed up a ticket to this show. It was unexpectedly phenomenal and a total exercise in the art of genre-bending and musical freedom. Matisyahus blend of reggae, ska-punk, hip-hop and rock was the perfect showcase for his rich, beautiful singing voice and mad rapping skills and Dub Trio proved to be the perfect heavy backbone. There aren’t many bands who can play two tireless sets in a row like they do. Next time Matisyahu and Dub Trio comes to town, I am forcing the ticket into someones hands. The show is too good to pass up.
Dub Trio setlist:
Bay Vs. Leonard
One Man Tag Crew
Casting Out the Nines
Angle of Acceptance
Who Wants to Die?
Not for Nothing
Darkness into Light
Time of Your Song
So High, So Low
I Will Be Light
Two Child, One Drop
King Without a Crown