The other day, the live version of “King Without a Crown” came on my Itunes randomly. It had been a while since I listened to the song (a year and a half actually) and I was surprised at how good it was. So I put on Live at Stubbs and listened to it all the way through for the first time in about 3 years, and while I wouldn’t rank it in the Top 10 Live Albums of all time, it is probably without a doubt the best live album of the 2000s. Any feelings of being alienated by his religious beliefs are gone by the sonic assault on “King Without a Crown”, and he also does a pretty bad-ass beat-box as well. On “Aish Tamid”, he lets the band fall back and sing solo for a few bars. Then the tension grows as Matisyahu taunts his band to keep up with him as he raps about the destruction of the temple. His mix of reggae, rap, and religious imagery definitely made Matisyahu unique, but Live at Stubb’s is more than that. Its a man at the peak of his powers, and the type of show that is rarely caught on tape.
Live at Stubb’s was the first album that I bought by Matisyahu, and I had big expectations for the follow-up Youth. Unfortunately, I found much of it to be stale, and almost fake sounding. I blame it on the production. Matisyahu still had the arrangements of great songs (I’m thinking of “Jerusalem (Out of Darkness Comes Light)”. But the producers somehow decided this song was a dance-song that lingers somewhere between a reggae song and adult contemporary acts like the Black Eyed Peas. Luckily, the song was saved by a fantastic live version from Austin City Limits, found on Itunes. The addition of a live-band not only added more life to the song, but also made it more believable.
Matisyahu’s biggest problem is his marketing team and producers. He has great songs, and can give great performances. Just because he plays reggae doesn’t mean he belongs in dance-hall. Maybe he should remind his record company that he used to be a hippie.