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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

End Hits Concert Challenge #2: Matisyahu at the Crystal Ballroom, 06/24/09

Posted by Andrew R Tonry on Wed, Jun 24, 2009 at 3:54 PM

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Dearest End Hits Readers: We take our show-going duties very seriously here. But sometimes we like to mix things up and combine our two true loves in this world: live music and illegal gambling. That was the initial motivation behind The End Hits Concert Challenge, where upon losing a bet, a blogger of ours will be annexed at a show (of someone else's choosing). Also, they must partake in this activity sober, alone, and stay for the entire show. Plus, the added salt to the wound comes in the form of a 500-word review to be published here.

Yes, it's cruel, but much like the firm hand of discipline we all longingly crave, these concert challenges keep our staff sharp and alert. It also makes us afraid to bet on anything. In the coming weeks and months, we'll all partake in a series of these dares, but for now, enjoy our second post of The End Hits Concert Challenge.

- - -

I thought this would be easy. Lose a bet, go to a shitty show, review it. Five hundred words. Fine—worth the risk.

Not so. Matisyahu, the Jewish reggae-rapper is one of the worst concerts I've experienced in my life. The kind of thing that re-assures you there is no justice in the world.

It started slightly better than it ended—with Somalian rapper K'Naan and a photo pass. Both would run their course.

When K'naan emerged with a full band, I thought, 'hey, cool, this will make things more interesting.' Again, not so. Save for a few African-tinged polyrythms, K'naan's backing band, mostly Philadelphian, strayed more into vapid rap rock and that hiphop drummer syndrome of overplaying fills.

From my notes: "Remarkable how long it took K'Naan to re-appropriate the worst parts of American culture—rap rock." Don't call me a rockist. Dude would've been better off with turntables or a sampler or something—anything but a guitarist sporting a Rock Band video game hat.

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Now seems as good a time as any to mention that this was a sold out show, FULL of Northwest, college going, sandle-and-shorts wearing, occiasional pot-smoking white folks, all charged up for a night of supposed "world" music. Of course, there is nothing remotely authentic about the sounds of the performers, Matisyahu in particular. Then it hit me: K'Naan, although far removed from Somalia's turmoil, lends a guise of legitimacy to Matisyahu's far-out white bread, poor black aping bullshit (with Jewish sprinkles, of course). It's clear why K'Naan was chosen to open on this tour. (After the show I saw K'Naan outside his bus, surrounded by frat boys wanting to talk and take pictures. I can't help but wonder how he feels about these privileged chumps.)

Despite the generic, wanky faults of his band, K'Naan was enthusiastic, genuine and gracious (and when he sang the a-capella lyric, "remember when we heard about New York City" I felt it's humble origins). Matisyahu, on the other hand, was just going through the motions.

Earlier I had planned to try to understand and explain Matisyahu's popularity. I would go around and see how many of the audience were Jewish, figuring that perhaps was the draw. (I should mention that Ezra most likely sent me to this show as a result of his own latent Jewish guilt. I also think that he's setting me up to get blasted for making some Anti-semetic comment, which I hope to avoid.)

But later, after I hear the vapid sounds of Matisyahu, I was thwarted by another logical stroke: it doesn't matter if his fans are Jewish—there's no excuse for listening to music so terrible, derivative and bland, religious association or not. And hell, there was enough pot smoke in the air to disqualify this as any religious event aside from Rastafari, and judging by the two black folks in the audience, that couldn't have been the case.

In fact, rather than trying to place either of these artists in a genre other than "college rock" or "first year dorm room, Bob Marley poster, bong, whoa bro, throw the CD's out in junior year" is futile and wrong. There should be an iTunes section called "college music." Shit, the only stereotype missing from this tour is Asher Roth.

So where was I?

Ahh yes, I was on the side of the stage with a photo pass and a beer (yes, I broke the rules of the challenge, depending on who you ask), a thankful respite from the packed crowd, just where I peacefully watched all of K'Naan. But the sound man that Matisyahu brought along was a fucking dick. He made me move, then move again—I'm being polite meanwhile. I sat down and another guy asked for my pass. I showed it, and the soundman came up and just said "he's outta here!"

"FUCK YOU," I screamed back! "What's your problem, you horrible asshole? You're a hateful pile of saggy flesh! No one likes you." And so I was escorted out of the staging area, my photo pass removed.

The Crystal Ballroom staff apologized for his behavior. "I don't know what his problem was," one said. "He's not one of our guys." I know what his problem is though—he has to make Matiyshu look good. He did it with all kinds of extra out-board gear that isn't normally used, turning on and off masking vocal effects for different phrases. It's true: Matisyahu is a horrible singer. His falsetto, which he tip-toed into, even under layers reverb and delay to widen, was pathetic and thin.

So was his performance. His only dance was the tough guy strut, which he did brazenly. Fucking boring. During the musical crescendo of a new single Matisyahu turned his back to the crowd, barely moving for what should've been the emotional high-point. On this particular track the music went from almost U2 bland to Kelly Clarkson "rock" pop production. Absolute formula, produerial dictates. Otherwise it was a faux-dub, that at one point stretched up to shredding guitar-solo metal-mockery before melting back to dub. Nah Brah.

But here's the worst part of it: the Lion from Zion is from Bend. Yes, Bend, Oregon. He said so, noting that he used to come to the Crystal to see Black Eyed Peas (this got roaring applause). So, I ask, in what area of Bend, Oregon does one pick up a Jamaican accent? Are there projects in Bend I don't know about, somewhere between the ski lodge and the horse stables? We should start a fund, send dude down to Kingston and see if he still talks like that. Either he's humbled and cuts the shit or gets his asked kicked. It's win/win.

So there I was, kicked out of the spacious photo section, crammed up against the back bar, christened "Rasta-bar-aye" when Matiyishu broke out his most hilariously bad moment of the night. During a musical breakdown, in faux-rasta voice he chanted, "put ya cellphones up in de aiir, oh yah, puttcha cellphones up in de aiiirr." He actually started jamming on it. "Putcha... uh huh.... putttcha..."

And really, does one have any right or reason to believe themselves a revolutionary when they sing songs about stopping the violence to peace-toting yuppies? Sure, you LIKE Bob Marley and Fela Kuti, but they were singing about things that were actually happening to THEM. The only turmoil in Bend, Oregon is the price of real-estate.

My notes started spiraling out with uncontrollable rage. So many things, so horrible. And while I've touched on them here, rather than continue, I want to offer up a plea to anyone who saw this horrid show, or enjoys the pretend music of Matisyahu:

There is so much more out there. Please, just take a look and a listen around. There is legitimate music to be found and a whole world of much more satisfying. Shit, even in reggae and dub there are shows immediate future that will put expose to you the shame that is Matisyahu (unfortunately we just missed Midnite). One is tonight at the Zoo—Sly and Robbie. Real artists and real accents—not cash-in piece of shit losers like Matisyahu, who took the words of L. Ron Hubbard and twisted em. Instead of a religion, he started a (religious) band.

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