Review: Matisyahu @ The Bluebird—Bloomington, IN–11/11/2012
It was an easy decision to see a post-Hasidic Matisyahu perform at The Bluebird. I waited before the show started, interest piqued to see the reincarnated artist. I watched the crowd quickly amass as I stood waiting for him and his band to take the stage. Bass rumbled the ground and a man’s voice began to sing out in Jewish prayer, indicating the beginning of “Crossroads.” I gasped when Matisyahu entered the stage. It was odd to see him have short slicked-back hair, dark sunglasses, and a black full-length coat. The man of light and spirituality appeared to be much darker and iconoclastic. In the past, he praised his fans, understanding they’re the reason for his fame, but this night he appeared to lack any connectivity with the crowd. His voice was sounding amazing, sharply improving over the years. I kept waiting for him to engage the crowd, or even some bouncing around the stage, but he stood idle with his eyes hiding behind the shades. “Searching For You” was the next song he played. He did beatbox during this song and overall the song was very well crafted. It was very good electronic music. However, it sounded way too dark for Matisyahu. His lack of emotion toward the crowd made him appear disconnected. The first two songs were very disappointing; he lacked substance and depth.
The perplexing nature of his musical transformation was quickly forgotten when “Sunshine” began. This is another track off of his most recent album, Spark Seeker, but definitely more like his past material. “Sunshine” featured a groove invoking bass line and Matisyahu’s perfect voice delivering positive lyrics. This charged the crowd up, but I couldn’t help but notice Matisyahu continuing to appear disconnected from the crowd.”Bal Shem Tov” was the next song. “Bal” was definitely the low point for the set, failing to capitalize on the previous song’s energy. Musically the first half of the show didn’t sound too bad, but his lack of confidence and connectivity with the crowd were quite unexpected. I was deflated and yearning for him to take me to great heights. My wishes were granted as the song “Thunder (From Light)” began to play and Matisyahu finally connected with the crowd, bouncing around the stage and smiling like he did in the past. He segued perfectly into “Exaltation”, a Matisyahu classic and one of my favorites. In this song, he continued to win me and others over, becoming increasingly animated on stage. His animation coupled with his beautifully crisp vocals finally elevated me to great heights. The set was finally coming together. The next song, “Live Like a Warrior”, perfectly highlighted Matisyahu’s strengths as a musician; a perfect display of inspirational vocals, melodic and mellow music, and great stage presence. I was thrown off guard as he took his connectivity and stage presence to the next level, stage diving into the sea of fans. The set ended with “Sea to Sea”, featuring a more electronic version of the original. It sounded nice, perfectly preparing the crowd for the imminent encore. With a strong finish to his set, I was riding very high and unsure how the encore would transpire. The uncertainty and any scrutiny were whisked away by him playing “King Without a Crown”, Matisyahu’s biggest hit and arguably his best song. During “King”, his musical mastery was on full display for the exuberant crowd. We were his puppets as he appeared to control the crowd with great ease. The ease wasn’t due to lack of emotion. It was quite the opposite; you could feel the raw emotion in his voice as his true stage presence shone through. It gave me goose bumps. I saw tears shed and others were awestruck by the undeniably beautiful music being displayed. The show ended with another fan favorite, “One Day”, a positively powerful song about hope. You could see the joy smeared across many faces. Toward the end of the song, Matisyahu and his band members invited the crowd on stage. Chaos eliminated any easy wind down to the show. Fans flooded the stage, dancing and cheering as the song continued. It was pure chaos as Matisyahu disappeared amid a sea of fans, still managing to finish the song, ending the show with an awe-inspiring moment between an artist and fans. In retrospect, the set started out weird with his new off-putting persona and darker electronically influenced songs. He finally connected with the crowd and emerged as the artist so many fans have grown to love. The best part of the show was the encore, displaying positively the best mix of showmanship and musical talent.
Words by: Alex Toy
Photos by: Aaron Lingenfelter, Wide Aperture Images