Album Review: Matisyahu – Live At Stubb’s II

Every now and then, you just need to go back to where it all began. For reggae artist Matisyahu, this would be a club in Austin, Texas known as Stubbs Bar-B-Q. Here is where he began to turn heads with his 2005 album, Live at Stubb’s, a 12-song collection featuring a powerful and moving rendition of what became his breakout hit, “King Without a Crown”. It was like everyone had heard this track in one day, and then suddenly, the song was everywhere. It’s rare that a live album helps an artist break into the mainstream. Usually, those types of live collections are saved for artists who have already established themselves with multiple hits. However, this album was that good. The raw emotion and passion on this disc spoke to people, and with good reason–Matisyahu is known for his commanding live performances. Fast forward to today: He has a few more hits under his belt, and he now pays homage to where it all started by recording Live at Stubb’s II.

So it’s another live album–what’s the big deal? Well, this album features 10 tracks that the first album did not offer. This is in contrast to other live offerings, such as the live Dave Matthews Band series or Phish live albums (and both are great– settle down); how many times can you hear those same tracks over and over on an album before they start losing steam? This shows a fresh side of a lot of new material, so those who fell in love with Live at Stubb’s are not purchasing the same album twice.

Four of the 10 tracks are from Matisyahu’s latest studio effort, Light. “I Will Be Light”, “Motivate”, and the hit single “One Day” are high points. The latter, highly motivational track–and if you don’t know where you’ve heard the song, it’s probably from the most recent winter Olympics–comes alive on this album in a way that does not shine through on radio or Light. Matisyahu sings beautifully throughout his hopeful tune of unity and then lets loose as the band tears through the souls of that small club.

What he and his band do best is make their music come to life. That is something admirable and worthy of respect. The tracks sound great in their recorded versions, but when these they really come alive in a live setting, taking on a whole new meaning. His lyrics are so profound that when you hear him execute his performance with such ease and so little fault, you cannot help but get lost in the experience.

All except one of the tracks clock in at over the five-minute mark, which is very much extended from their album lengths. This allows for the band to kick things into jam band mode and completely take their arrangements to another level. “Youth” clocks in at 12:27, the longest length on the album, and it’s arguably the best track, with the exception of  ”Time of Your Song”, which is coincidentally the shortest on the disk. Matisyahu personally gets a ton of well-deserved credit, but the band that backs him is completely on fire. The rhymes and rhythms match perfectly, making seamless transitions from reggae to rock in seconds, leaving you wondering what the hell just happened.

It would be tough to compare this Stubb’s visit to the last one. In the beginning, you have a very little-known act whose performance was too good to ignore. Now you have an established artist who brings new life to his catalog, which did not previously get its due. To say one is better than the other is not relevant. Instead, take away that this is not just another trip to Austin, Texas. This is the next installment of an artist who has a ton to say– and who will entertain the hell out of you while he says it.


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