Reviews: Matisyahu in Salt Lake City
They say the best things in life are free, and there can be no better example than Salt Lake City’s Twilight Concert series. With acts like Modest Mouse, Girltalk, Chromeo, and now Matisyahu, it’s clear that my new hometown knows how to get plenty of bang for a complete lack of buck.In keeping with the theme, our night begins with a free but haphazardly chosen parking spot, no less than ten blocks away from our intended destination. Being relatively new to the city and knowing only that Pioneer Park is somewhere downtown, the best we can do is walk rather aimlessly, hoping for throngs of people to appear and tell us that we’re on the right track. Surprisingly, this plan works, and it’s not long before we find ourselves funneled through the park’s gates.
Because of specific beverage choices we’d made at dinner, our first order of business upon entering the park is to stand in one of the absurdly long lines for a port-o-potty. An average line has upwards of 30 people—most bouncing or jostling impatiently, and as we near the halfway point of our wait, it’s clear that the man behind us is becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
“I knew I should’ve worn Depends tonight,” he groans, and I silently sympathize.
Approaching the front of the line bears a similar sensation to finally boarding a rollercoaster, and the music coming from the stage seems to build as I near the finish line. Finally, when at last I find myself face to face with the blessed, neon blue door, a young girl approaches, her eyes pleading.
“How bad do you have to go?” the tweener asks, and with nary a fight, I let her step in front, though I can feel rumblings from the men behind me.
Finally, our mission accomplished, we are free to press through the mass of humanity, through the thick clouds of smoke, past punks, hippies, hipsters, college kids, high school kids, yuppies, and families. We find a spot of unclaimed earth, and I squeeze myself in front of an empty stroller. When I turn to look for its occupant, I find him bobbing on his father’s shoulders, smiling ecstatically. He throws me the peace sign.
Somehow I am always the guy that people feel they can set up a steady flow of traffic in front of—most usually frat boys who make sure to push you as they pass, collars popped and sunglasses donned…at night—and I find myself anxiously waiting for anyone over 6’0” to keep moving. I crane my neck and turn my attention to Matisyahu, who is in the middle of the “Time of your Song”, one of his better known tracks and one of my favorites. He is dressed simply, hunched over his microphone in jeans, a kippah, and a black Adidas windbreaker. His sound is primal. The drummer constantly digs into his toms, and the guitar notes seem ripped from the fret board. Over the course of the next few minutes, I notice that his music has a decidedly dub-like quality to it tonight, plodding, heavier on the synth and reverb than I’m used to.
He moves into” King Without a Crown”, his flagship song, halfway through the set. This seems a conscious decision, one that wipes away any expectation or apprehension, bringing the audience into the present. This too, is slower: weightier. He lays out the lyrics with static intonation, creating a cadence to which the crowd begins to unconsciously sway, and it is at this point that I begin to listen to the words.
One has to marvel at Matisyahu’s lyrical storage space, not to mention his ability to reproduce, night in and night out, mountains of words with flawless accuracy. I suppose it helps that every song follows the same general theme—one based on loving God and your neighbor and firmly rooted in his intense faith. As he sings of King David and the Temple and I look around at the punks and hippies and soccer moms, I wonder if there is any other artist with such a distinctly religious message who can claim such a widespread fanbase.
He is, of course, equally impressive without words, and indeed a five minute beat-box breakdown brings the loudest cheers of the night. He is an unmistakable combination of talent and charisma. As the last song, “One Day” begins, we fight our way furiously to the front, using 6’4” Elliot as a fullback. I turn around to watch my friend—much more of a Matis fan than I—sway and sing, eyes closed, hands wrapped around his necklaces, and I begin to sense that, for many people, no matter their religious beliefs, tonight’s show has been entertaining on a near-spiritual level.
After the concert, we meet friends at an especially conspicuous birch tree before beginning our crosstown escapade towards Johnny’s, a hole-in-the-wall pool hall. Along the way we discover an exciting (to us) quirk of SLC. In lieu of cross guards, pedestrians are encouraged to carry fluorescent neon flags from a bucket on one side of the street to the other, a custom that we readily adopt, strutting across the street in our best drum major impressions.
Drinks at Johnny’s, though, are short-lived. Prime viewing for the Perseid meteor shower is tonight, and people are meeting at the top of Emigration Canyon to celebrate. And so it is that the end of our night finds me climbing a mini-mountain, wrapped in a sheet from the trunk of my car, tripping over rock formations and sage bushes, to lie down and intermittently stargaze…and sleep.