RACHEL DEVOR / THE EAGLE
Reggae artist Matisyahu brought his signature beat-boxing and guitar riffs to more than 550 people at SUB’s last concert of the year on April 28.
What didn’t make an appearance in the Tavern, though, were his defining beard and sideburns — symbols of his now-evolving Orthodox Judaism.
Those who have followed Matthew “Matisyahu” Miller’s music since his 2003 debut may have been surprised to see a clean-shaven performer wearing no Jewish apparel but a kippah. In December, he shaved his beard, declared “no more Chassidic reggae superstar” and began touring while redefining his Jewish and musical identities.
Facial hair or no, the man still puts on a pretty great show.
YouTube sensation Noah Guthrie opened the night on an acoustic note, showing the crowd a mix of his own original music and the covers that have made him Internet-famous. At the age of 18, the singer/songwriter’s soulful voice and deep lyrics belie a stage presence beyond his years. With vocals reminiscent of Mumford & Sons, Guthrie’s set ranged from an ambitious rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” to his own introspective “In Too Deep.” The growing crowd seemed entertained but was clearly anxious for the main act.
The headliner, however, didn’t take the stage until shortly after 9:30 p.m. — 45 minutes after Guthrie’s set had ended. In accordance with Jewish law, Matisyahu could not be driven from his hotel until Shabbat ended at 8:41 p.m. They then hit traffic related to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, according to SUB stage manager Noah Gray.
But at long last, Matisyahu entered the Tavern, accompanied by his three young children. For those expecting a performance with the energy of the “Live at Stubb’s” album, Matis’s relaxed beats may have been a surprise.
Matis previewed his upcoming “Sunshine,” a mellow and summery reggae track not yet released, along with several songs from the 2009 album “Light” as the strong smell of marijuana permeated the venue. Though its frontman’s stage presence may have been more laid-back than usual, the band came through with the pop-rock guitar work and drum beats that set Matisyahu apart from other reggae/ska artists.
The staccato of “Aish Tamid,” the first of Matisyahu’s earlier songs in the set, was lackluster compared to its usual punch. The lyrical force and passion normally felt in a Matisyahu performance was underwhelming until he sang “King Without a Crown” and “Youth,” when both singer and crowd alike seemed more engaged.
During a passionate rendition of “Jerusalem,” some in the audience waved an Israeli flag. Clearly, though Matis may seek a different path, his fans associate his music with Jewish and Israeli pride.
Matisyahu ended the night with a lively, extended version of his hit “One Day.” His children — some sporting kippot and curled sideburns — came onstage to join in the chorus and entertain the audience with their own dance moves.
Despite the crowd’s calls for an encore, Matis left the Tavern buzzing from a smooth performance that satisfied longtime fans and new followers alike.