Pantages Theater – Minneapolis, MNIt’s been a decade since I first befriended Matt Miller aka Matisyahu. I played with him and his original band for the first handful of shows outside of New York City. We played for 35 people in Philly. We played in the corner of a hotel bar in Albany. We also played a sold out show at the end of that tour at BB King’s in Times Square. There were literally throngs of frum youth, screaming and hyper-extending limbs just to touch the cloth of his garment. I knew then that something huge was happening.
I was right. Soon after that, his performance on Jimmy Kimmel went viral. Then his major label debut, “Live at Stubbs” went gold. Shakira’s people reached out to him about opening up for her on a tour of South American soccer stadiums. When chatting with him about the opportunity, he said he was going to politely decline Shakira’s offer because his religious observance would not allow him to hear a female sing. I knew then, that something had to give. How was he to reconcile these powerful and polarized forces, to find the elusive balance of being devout, being a family man, and being famous?
He ended up leaving the Lubavitch sect in 2011 because he felt he was able to be religious without the rules. “I am reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and my divine mission,” he said of making the difficult decision.
His heartfelt rendition of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” literally brought tears to the eyes of my Jamaican business partner who came to the show with me.
Matisyahu’s latest album, “Akeda”, is an emotive, poetic and deeply personal attempt to document that struggle, and I find it to be the most honest and real recording Matis has released to date. Many lyricists write from the perspective of the person they want to be, not the person they are. Others are a little more self-aware; others simply paint a verbal picture to transport you to another place, time or paradigm. Like most of my favorite lyricists, Matisyahu has the right balance of all three and his most recent performance at the Pantages Theater on October 24th in downtown Minneapolis is a perfectly imperfect distillation of his journey over the last 10 years.
The show effortlessly fused so many of his influences with some of his best material, spanning his entire catalog. The second set started with the anthemic and infectious hit, “One Day,” which extended into a spacey beatbox improvisation teasing, “I will Get By” from the Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Gray,” into a heartfelt rendition of Bob Marley’s, “No Woman, No Cry” which literally brought tears to the eyes of my Jamaican business partner who attended the show with me.
Most of the crowd was sitting at first, but halfway through he encouraged us to stand and dance if. The crowd was on their feet the rest of the night. Later, he repurposed one of my favorite verses from “Aish Tamid” into a rap verse that resembled a mix of Kid Cudi and Saul Williams.
The latest incarnation of Matisyahu’s live band is a mix of new and old. Longtime guitarist Aaron Dugan lead the musical charge with impeccably solid, low-end from Dub Trio’s Stu Brooks. A new keyboard player and drummer accompanied the veterans. Keys were tasteful, subtle, atmospheric and dubbed out. The drummer was tight and cleverly infused his obvious jazz background into the mix. They ended the show with a four-song encore that was long enough to be another set—a sign that after all these years, Matis still loves to be on stage giving his all, and baring his soul for the world.