Matisyahu w/ Trevor Hall
Who goes to a Matisyahu concert? Monday night at the Music Farm, there were the reggae fiends, of course, swaying like waders in an unseen current. There were the gone denizens of the Charleston nightlife, the students who had come to get their dance on, the half-dozen die-hard fans who mouthed every lyric, and the people who had heard “King Without a Crown” on the radio in 2006 and wondered what reggae’s most famous Hasidic Jew was up to these days.
In the midst of all the gyrating bodies, clinking bottles, sweat, and patchouli stood a few for whom the concert could well have been a religious experience. Some sported yarmulkes that could be seen from the balcony, bobbing gently to the beat. Others stood stock-still with their palms pressed together or their fingers parked at their chins.
So it goes at a concert where the lyrics prompt meditation while the rhythm begs for dancing. Swishing across the stage with tzitzit tassels flying in centrifugal loops, the lanky and limber Matisyahu appeared comfortable in his dual role as entertainer and mystic. There were magical moments, including quieter numbers that hushed the crowd and a show-closing encore of radio single “One Day” that saw the band leader pulling people onstage to sing along.
But there were lulls, too, especially during some sample-heavy newer songs that strayed from the more straightforward reggae of his early career. The Dub Trio, the backing band, showed real chops — especially drummer Joe Tomino, who exhibited a versatility to rival the frontman’s legendary beatboxing — but for 90 percent of the show, Matis seemed to be the only person in the band who was enjoying himself. Bassist Stu Brooks, in particular, fixed the crowd with an unsettling death stare when he looked up at all, and the trio assumed the stoic stances of a metal act for most of the night.
Hilton Head native Trevor Hall, who had opened the show with feel-good reggae for an already-packed house, made a second appearance during Matisyahu’s extended encore. The two sang a duet of “Soul Rebel” with Hall on acoustic guitar and Matisyahu throwing in an astonishing beatbox run. Moments like these, spare and devoid of audio samples, were the ones that won the crowd over. True, there were other moments that wowed people — eerie E-Bow solos by guitarist D.P. Holmes, synthesized bass drones that rattled rib cages — but they seemed like cheap thrills next to the uncomplicated arrangement of “Jerusalem,” a song that found Matisyahu shrinking into himself under blue spotlights with the demeanor of a confessional songwriter.
“Jerusalem, if I forget you,” he sang, “Fire not gonna come from me tongue.” For a few minutes, the dance party eased up, and the reggae rockers in the crowd took a break to hear what the singer had to say. There was real wonder in the air, and a true showman on the stage.