BY KASEY CHEN
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
Matisyahu, the Grammy nominated musician known for his unique, musical blend of beatboxing, reggae, and rock, performed at Centennial Hall in Juneau last Friday, September 23rd. The concert did not mark his first time in Alaska, having done a tour in 2007 that ran through Anchorage and Fairbanks. This time around, Matisyahu played an acoustic set for the sold out crowd, filled to the brim with improvised moments.
Since reaching the top of the alternative rock charts in 2005 with his single, “King without a Crown,” the Jewish American vocalist has undergone major changes. Over the years, Matisyahu affiliated himself with various Hasidic sects, and until 2007, he strictly observed the Jewish Sabbath and did not perform after sundown on Fridays. He played this concert clad in jeans and a loose tank top, a stark contrast to the Hasidic dress of his past. He told Geoff Kirsch of the Capital City Weekly, “I don’t see it as leaving [Hasidism], exactly. Anytime you dedicate, sacrifice and give yourself over to something, it becomes a permanent part of who you are as a person. In that way, Judaism and ‘hasidishkite’ will always be part of my whole being, my essence, for as long I live.”
Matisyahu, then called Matthew Paul Miller, spent his youth in Pennsylvania and New York and was brought up as a Reconstructionist Jew. At his brit milah (circumcision ceremony) he, in the way of Jewish tradition, was given a Yiddish name. At the ceremony he was given the name “Feivish Hershel,” but this information was lost shortly after. Later, when he attended Hebrew school, he was called Matisyahu because of the name’s connection to Matthew. Later, when the real name was rediscovered, he kept Matisyahu as he was told by his rabbis to continue with what he had used for most of his life. This later became his stage name for his singing career and eventually became the name used to refer to his entire band.
After 7 pm, the attendees trickled into the convention center, which was lined wall to wall with seating. The house lights stayed up for the first few songs, illuminating the middle section of the audience, making for an intimate experience. Not only could the audience see Matisyahu, but he could look back out at them as well. At first, most stayed put in their chairs, but as the night progressed, many made their way into the isles and to the front of the stage to dance.
Although Matisyahu’s look has morphed over the years, his signature style was still discernable in his music. Those present were witness to his unique blend of beat boxing and vocals over largely improvised guitar played by Aaron Dugan who has been with the Matisyahu since his album, Live at Stubbs, which was released in 2005. He constantly searches for ways to inject his faith into what he creates. According to Matisyahu’s personal biography, “… Matisyahu developed a more personal, artistic, and sophisticated way to express the yearning for deep spiritual meaning, and as his own beliefs opened up to find more variety and depth, the desire for his performances to match the unpredictable flow of life developed as well.”
Matisyahu began touring over 11 years ago, and has worked on refining his unique brand of performance ever since. Many different musical artists have shared the stage with him in his time, one of them being an early inspiration for Matisyahu’s music, Trey Anastasio, front man of the band Phish. They played a show together at the Bonaroo arts and Music Festival for an 80,000-person crowd, a high point in Matisyahu’s career. Currently Matisyahu and Aaron Dugan are joined on tour by bassist Stu Brooks, percussionist Tim Keiper, and keyboardist Big Yuki. The group has found their stride, creating unique performances for every show. Due to the improvisational nature of their work, no two shows are ever the same. Matisyahu and the rest of the band will continue their tour after leaving Juneau, hitting California and New York next.
“Tour.” Matisyahu. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2016.
Kirsch, By Geoff. “Second Time Around: Matisyahu Returns to Alaska.” Juneau Empire. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2016.