(courtesy House of Blues)
When Matisyahu first started touring to packed clubs more than eleven years ago, it was prior to the release of Live at Stubbs, the now Gold record, and prior to that record’s single “King without a Crown” reaching #1 on the alternative rock radio charts. His performances were a raw expression of his spirituality at that time and were supported by musicians who played a foundation of roots reggae augmented by the energy of a rock trio. Fans latched on quickly for a variety of reasons, but in August of 2005, just months after the release of Live at Stubbs, Matisyahu found himself on stage at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival with the de facto leader of improvisational rock-n-roll; Phish’s front man Trey Anastasio. Many early fans of Matisyahu remember that moment clearly not because of the songs he played in front of the 80,000 person crowd, but because of his seemingly unfettered confidence (or perhaps naiveté) in helping lead Trey and his band through an improvisational display of beat boxing and lyrical gymnastics during the two songs performed. It may have been unrefined, but Matisyahu’s passion for full band improvisation was laid bare.
Now, more than a decade later, Matisyahu has formed a band that truly gives itself over to the music on par with his lyrical desire to connect to something beyond the self. The band features original Stubbs guitarist and longtime staple of the downtown New York improv scene Aaron Dugan, Dub Trio bassist and long-time Matisyahu collaborator Stu Brooks, percussionist and Cyro Baptista go-to-drummer Tim Keiper, and Addison Groove Project founder Rob Marscher. Combined, the music and lyrics transcend their parts. At its most basic moments the music now feels alive; an entity unto itself, being born in the moment and evolving each night. No two performances of a song are alike. At its most exultant moments the music becomes full-band improvisation. Lyrics are rearranged on the spot to serve the energy of the jam, no instrumentalist is playing simply to demonstrate individual skill, and Keiper’s percussive mastery finds the subtle cracks within Matisyahu’s beat boxing to propel the music beyond anything it’s ever achieved previously.