Concert Review: Matisyahu at Georgia Theatre in Athens
It was a quiet Thursday night in downtown Athens, as the usual bustling bar scene was replaced by tranquil streets and relative calm. Last night marked the start of the Georgia/Florida football weekend and UGA’s coordinating fall break, and undoubtedly many students were en route to the Landing in Jacksonville for the World’s Largest Cocktail Party. It was a peculiar time for Matisyahu to park his tour bus at the Georgia Theatre, but he put on quite the show for those that hung around campus.
The evening kicked off with Atlanta’s psychedelic soul-rockers The Constellations. Touring on their recent release Do It For Free, The Constellations brought their 70s flavored sound to warm up the crowd. They recently wrapped up their run on the 2012 Warped tour, and in our afternoon of drinking from the musical fire hose back in August, we managed to miss their set, so it was good to catch up with these boys at the Theatre. They have an ethereal and trippy sound with a healthy dose of hip-hop injected into the mix to serve as punctuation. Frontman Elijah Jones channels some of his inner demons on the mic and Bassist Wes Hoffman has the best ‘fro I’ve ever seen sported by a white guy. For those plugged into the Atlanta music scene, these guys are ones to watch.
They served as a nice complement of sound to the world’s most popular Hasidic rapper. After the short changeover, Matisyahu hit the stage in front of a sheet emblazoned with the cover art from the band’s recent album Spark Seeker. At first, Matisyahu just stayed seated to the side of the stage, feeling the groove his band mates were weaving together. As the notes crescendoed ever higher, he made his way to the center of the stage.
For those who have seen him before, the first thing you notice is his radical change in appearance. Gone are the distinctive payo curls and full beard, and even the yamaka has been pushed aside. It gets replaced by a clean cut look that might be mistaken for one of the local frat boys, initially veiled his new, rather pedestrian, looks under a New York Giants ball cap and sunglasses. Matisyahu created quite the stir last December when he took a razor blade to his trademark beard, unveiling his new look on Twitter. Many fans though he was abandoning his Jewish heritage, but he’s since assured the faithful that the face lift is just part of his evolution as a person and artist.
When he launched into his first rapping verse of the evening, the crowd was rather subdued. A faint sway seemed to overtake the audience watching Matisyahu step through the lyrics. It was strange to have such a big name on stage yet to have such a spare audience poised to cheer him on. The Georgia Theatre was far from sold out, no doubt due to the events that fell around this evening. I guess when you chart a college tour inevitably you are going to land on some school’s fall break.
As the set pushed on, Matisyahu seemed to loosen up and the audience did as well. He paraded out several cuts from his new album, Spark Seeker, like “Sunshine” and “Live Like a Warrior” which charged up the audience. He nestled his 2005 breakout hit “King Without a Crown” midway into the set which really riled the kids up. “Crown” aside, the Georgia Theatre crowd really received his lesser known catalog well which speaks well for his longevity as an artist going forward.
Matisyahu really got into the music throughout the set as he danced around the stage and interacted with his band mates. He eventually shed the hat and sunglasses and the blond wonder was striking in his makeover. While his appearance has done a 180, his carefully blended recipe of reggae-hip-hop proved as unmistakable as ever.
Matisyahu played a great set for the Athens crowd. While it would have been nice to have seen a larger showing to support this marquee talent, it was kind of nice to have space to breathe for a change. Matisyahu is in the thick of his college trek, so put aside the books for a date with this unusual talent.