After a giant arena show complete with music I never listen to, I was more than ready to get back to my roots and see an artist I grew up listening to at a club I call home. After walking as fast as I possibly could through the freezing Minnesota air, I landed at First Avenue and was greeted with a modest, yet excited crowd. After claiming my spot and popping a couple more cough drops (because why wouldn’t I be sick again), the lights darkened and the first band appeared on the stage.
Orphan was the first band to take the stage and, although I hadn’t heard of them prior to the show, I was instantly enthralled by their music. With no vocals, there was nothing to mask the musical talent of this trio. Their music was accessible but someone avoided being generic. There were certain note patterns and rhythms that had me completely captivated. Orphan is produced by headliner Matisyahu and you can feel a bit of Matisyahu’s reggae influence in some of Orphan’s music but it never outshines the individuality of the three members. With under five hundred likes on Facebook, it’s safe to say that these guys are a new band and still trying to get their foot in the door but they are off to a damn good start.
Following Orphan was Southern California based Common Kings. Just like Orphan, I had never heard of these guys before but the way they started their set with a drum solo and slowly added members to the stage had me eating out of the palm of their hand very quickly. I thought I had these guys figured out with their first song. It was reggae meets EDM and it was interesting to say the least. I loved it but, at the same time, I wasn’t in the mood for a rowdy crowd with no respect for personal space. I worried that I would be stuck in a rave atmosphere for the next forty-five minutes but, as they kicked into their second song, my worry subsided with the sound of some good old-fashioned reggae music.
It instantly became obvious that each of the four members of Common Kings brings a different flavor to the table and, instead of trying to even out those flavors, there are moments where each one is allowed to shine giving this band a sense of versatility that is not usually seen. From the EDM sounding intro to the more basic reggae sound with a quick Snoop Dogg cover thrown in surrounded songs that clearly had some old school rock tendencies thrown in, I was intrigued throughout their set and kept feeling excited to hear what they would do next.
Towards the end of Common Kings’ set, I realized that I had completely forgotten that there was still another act to come. Honestly, I had come for Matisyahu- the headliner, but I was so in love with Common Kings that I really didn’t know if I even wanted to stay (also my cough drop ration was running low and that wasn’t going to end well). That being said, after the stage was turned over and the lights went down to mark the start of Matisyahu’s set, I got the second wind I was praying for and leaned against the wall waiting for what was to come.
Most people know Matisyahu as the beatboxing Hasidic Jew. He used to perform wearing the traditional Orthodox garb but has lost that over the past couple of years leaving audiences with nothing but the music and talent that he has always had. In 2011 he posted a picture of himself without a beard (that’s a no no in the super religious side of Judaism) and said: “No more Chassidic reggae superstar. Sorry folks, all you get is me…no alias.” I think ditching the black hat and the payots (the sidecurls of hair that orthodox Jewish men typically have) was a good move for Matisyahu and helped make him more than just a beatboxing Jew.
He may have ditched the look but the religious undertones in his music are still here and, as a Jew myself, I find them relateable and deep. Unlike the Christian world where it seems like some musicians easily cross into the pop or country worlds, Jews really don’t have anything like that except for Matisyahu. He was able to mesh Judaism and pop-culture to create a beautiful thing. His dance-hall reggae like sound is infectious and makes you want to dance but, when listening to the lyrics, you got a deeper meaning to his music that, once you catch on, is impossible to ignore.
With six full length albums out, Matisyahu had more than enough material to fill the night but I liked how he and his band wasn’t frantic to play everything. The musicians that filled the stage took their time with the placement of notes underneath Matisyahu’s voice that seemed to just kind of go with the flow. The whole set had a go with the flow mentality that had me and the rest of the crowd feeling relaxed. I’m not positive, but it seemed as if there was really no set list as Matisyahu would chat with his band members between songs with a couple of nods here and a couple of headshakes there.
The crowd vibed through the set of new and old songs with a sense of energy that just screamed positivity. I may have been feeling like crap by the time the show was done but there was still a smile on my face because of the positive vibes that had been radiating throughout the venue. That go with the flow and ultra-positive attitude is something I wish more musicians had and one of the main reasons I keep on going back to see Matisyahu time and time again.
Staying at home may have been a really good idea last night since I wasn’t feeling too hot and, honestly, I feel even worse today probably because I went out last night. That being said, I just couldn’t pass up a chance to see Matisyahu live again and I’m more than happy with my decision.