Itâ€™s a cool, crisp evening in Los Angeles. A minyan (a gathering of 10 adult Jewish males who get together to participate in communal prayer) is forming mere steps from where Iâ€™m standing while a sea of yamakas and facial hair pass me by. The air is filled with excitement as young men and women converse in English with an occasional Yiddish or Hebrew word thrown in the mix for good measure. Some in the crowd carry miniature Israeli flags as they excitedly wave the light blue Star of David to and fro. No, Iâ€™m not in LAâ€™s Fairfax District in front of the famous Canterâ€™s Deli or around Melrose and La Brea on the Sabbath. Iâ€™m on Sunset.Though itâ€™s a Thursday, Sunset Blvd. is crackinâ€™ tonight. On the boulevard, you can feel the hustle and bustle of cars and people moving. The streetâ€™s alive. In particular, the area surrounding the House of Blues Sunset is where the action seems to be. But why the commotion? Why so many people? Why so many Jewish people?
One word. Matisyahu.
For those unfamiliar with Matisyahu, allow me to explain this new sensation causing such a stir in the entertainment industry and currently being featured on everything from MTV to NPR. Matisyahu is a reggae artist â€“ a pretty damn good reggae artist with an ability to skillfully beat-box that rivals any New York City corner-block latchkey kid. And having been trained musically, heâ€™s got an amazing voice too. Oh, and one more minor detailâ€¦ heâ€™s a devout Hasidic Jew. No, seriously – traditional get-up, beard and all, rocking a mic in one hand, the Torah in the other. Okay, not reallyâ€¦ the part about the Torah, but he might as well.
Itâ€™s about 9pm and Iâ€™m feeling good, really good. Iâ€™m on four hours of sleep and the mind elevation is definitely kicking in. My friend and I are standing out by the parking lot by the tour bus. Thereâ€™s a small crowd of 20-something Jewish males congregating by the bus talking excitedly. By chance, my buddy and I recognize one of the guys in the crowd. He was our neighbor during college and we hadnâ€™t seen him in what had to be at least four years. He looks the same except for the beard and the yamaka. Anyway, he informs us that Matisyahu is on his way to pray with them before the show â€“ a far departure from the proverbial pre-show coke binges of other rock stars. The Maarid or Arvit I believe itâ€™s called. Sure enough, a tall (heâ€™s at least 6â€™4â€), lanky â€“ almost awkward looking â€“ Jewish dude quickly approaches the group. Itâ€™s Matisyahu and heâ€™s received like a prophet. My friend and I back off â€“ we contemplated trying to blend into the group, but as good as we are at blending in, we were pretty sure theyâ€™d notice a teary-eyed Latino and a buzzing Indian.
The prayer takes just a few minutes and Matisyahu jets with a heroâ€™s farewell. We stay chatting it up with our friend for a bit more when we hear the roar of the crowd escape the building. I finish up my smoke and we run over to the door. By the time we get inside and grab disgustingly overpriced drinks, Matisyahu is on stage belting out â€œLord Raise Me Up.â€ The crowd sings along almost drowning out the main attraction himself. Amidst the few plumes of smoke arising from the audience, a joyous chorus belts out, â€œLord raise me up / From the ground / Iâ€™ve been here to long.â€
By now (after one song), Iâ€™ve lost track of time but my notepad is still legible â€“ good. Another song follows â€œLordâ€¦â€ followed by â€œChop â€˜em Down.â€ The crowd erupts into a frenzy as an ocean of Jews and Gentiles sway, bounce, and rock out to that sweet ragga music. If youâ€™ve heard â€œChop â€˜em Downâ€ then you know that itâ€™s basically a musical history of the Jewish faith â€“ each stanza a brief anecdote of a hero of the Torah. The way the crowd was acting, though, you couldâ€™ve sworn he was Elvis singing â€œHound Dog.â€
â€œWarrior,â€ my favorite song of his, was next at almost 10 minutes in length. For an outro to the track, Matisyahu began one of a couple series of sermonizing. It felt like being at temple (not that Iâ€™ve ever really been to temple), but it was great â€“ I mean, if R. Kelly can invoke the Big Guy in every record and at every awards show, why canâ€™t Matisyahu give some ups to his boy?
After the brief homily, Matisyahu began with another song followed by â€œKing Without a Crown.â€ The crowd goes nuts. Until now, there really hasnâ€™t been a break. The set thus far has been rolling non-stop and it would continue with an absolutely amazing free-style beat box session that blew the roof off the House of Blues.
Another new song (or one that I was unfamiliar with â€“ the latter part of the night is a bit sketchy) preceded a brief guitar interlude followed by another new jam. From here the 26-year-old segued into â€œAish Tamidâ€ complete with the poetry break in the middle (or as is written in my notes: â€œpoertyâ€). At this point, my friend â€“ in a haze of Mary Jane and Fosterâ€™s â€“ so perceptively observes that he, â€œDonâ€™t barely see any Rastafarian people.â€ At the time, this comment was the funniest thing Iâ€™d ever heard but he was right; â€œJew-frosâ€ abounded with the occasional white boy dreads here and there. It is also at this point that my notepad becomes unintelligible and my memory gets just a tad bit blurred.
What I do remember, however, is that the night ended as strong as it had started. After a few more songs (including â€œExaltationâ€), a well-received encore, and an invocation to â€œinvite the angels to come down,â€ the show was over as beads of sweat gently hung over the brows of those in attendance. As the sold-out crowd filtered out through the doors, I couldnâ€™t help but reflect on what an experience this night had been. The show was fulfilling â€“ both musically as well as spiritually. One couldnâ€™t help but leave the House of Blues smiling.
I wasnâ€™t quite sure what time the show ended, but it was pretty late and I was tired â€“ happy, but tired. As we walked towards our cars under the clear West Hollywood sky, there was only one thing left to be said to complete such a great night, â€œLetâ€™s get some food, yo.â€ Nosh anyone?