Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Matisyahu Live at Brooklyn Bowl November 29th

There are a select few artists who fill a category for me. It’s a category that’s hard to characterize. But, if I had to put words to it, I would title it “Artists That Are Better Viewed Live And Only Really Worth Listening To If It’s The Live Album, Rather Than The Studio Albums (That Aren’t Bad), It’s Just Not The Same And Is Really Kind of a Buzzkill Otherwise.”

That’s just not punchy, but I think you know what I mean. All three of those aspects have to be conveyed.

  1. They are a good live band (most likely play their songs totally different live than on the album)
  2. Have a stand out live album
  3. You really can’t even listen to the other albums, because the live album is far superior and anything less seems like a waste of time in comparison

I’m thinking of a few specific examples. You may not agree with all of these, but I think you get the general idea. Nirvana Unplugged in New York, Barenaked Ladies Rock Spectacle, Mxpx Attheshow, and Five Iron Frenzy Proof That the Youth Are Revolting. Two other examples are close, but I’m such a big fan of the artists’ catalogues that they don’t fit all three categories, but are worth mentioning. Ben Folds Ben Folds Live and Neil Young’s Live Rust.

The crowning example (pun intended) of this genre of artist I’m talking about is Matisyahu’s (how the hell do you plural tense Matisyahu?) live album Live at Stubb’s. It’s the cat’s pajamas of live albums. In fact, it’s the only Matisyahu album I own. It’s the only thing he’s ever done that I would ever choose to listen to enough to carry with me (and I still keep Hootie and the Blowfish on file).

That all changed after this show.

First and foremost, I must mention how awesome Brooklyn Bowl is. Clutch sound. It’s very small, yet expansive in layout. The bowling alley is directly parallel and dynamically in view of the stage. There is a restaurant with fantastic food and a wonderful selection of Brooklyn Brewery and Six Point beers. What more could you ask for! I know I will hang out there any chance I get.

It’s not that Matisyahu put on a terrible show. The sound was good. He played a two hour and change set, which is something I enjoy. I love a long set, usually, although this time around I sadly found myself checking my watch. I don’t even own a watch.

It just had such high expectations from the previous shows I went to and the marinated versions of Live at Stubbs firmly graced my taste buds. I wanted to cured, smoked versions of his music and I was served cheese and crackers.

Don’t get me wrong. I love cheese and crackers. Just not when I’m expecting the multi-course meal Matis has always delivered. I can say the word always, because once a band has a SWEET live album, one just assumes they always KILL it live.

I hated to see this notion die.

What never dies is the joy I get from Matisyahu beat boxing. I know I could pay $2 bones and see someone who is an actual professional beat boxer do similar work (if not better), but there is just something about it being Matisyahu doing the beat boxing. And his new material really uses this skill well. Therefore, you get to see him work the mic in this fashion multiple times a set. That is the plus.

On the negative side, it didn’t really seem like he was passionate about his old material. I remember him dancing (in a perplexing, awkward circle formation) around the stage, talking to the audience with ridiculous stream of conscious banter and making cattywampus gestures throughout long jam sessions. His backing band seems to have lost some luster. Back in the day, it seemed like he had multiple percussionists and the music was so real and authentic. Pure. No electric drums or computerized sounds.

This time around, he had a three piece backing band called The Dub Trio that opened the concert with 40 minutes of bland noise. Just as I cleaned my palette with enough Brooklyn Lager to forget how boring they were, they marched back on stage with Matisyahu (as the backing band). Oh dear. I knew from there I was in trouble.

Then the 180 has happened folks. Because of the musicianship of this concert and all the dynamics that are in play including, but not limited to, my preparation for the show—I like a new Matisyahu album. Released in 2009, Light offers a brand of Matisyahu I cannot get from Live at Stubbs.

It’s better on album than live. WHOA!?

Light belts you in the face with an expansive sound. The songs come from a wide range of influence and the structures themselves are complex and ever-changing. Just how I like it. When he played these songs live, he was pumped—sort of. They came off well. It was just the “classics” that seemed like a drag. And that’s too bad. A concert legend was slayed today. But, I won’t let it take away from what I gained out of the experience.

It’s like the Sir Lancelot killing spree scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I feel like the father who watched the bride get murdered before his eyes, but at least he gained a son-in-law. And in this case, that’s not as bad as it sounds.

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