Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hasidic Jewish reggae rapper draws partying crowd at Mayfair 

In a concert that was equal parts religious service and party -- OK, probably a good deal more party -- Hasidic Jewish reggae rapper Matisyahu held an audience enraptured for an hour and 40 minutes Thursday on the opening night at Allentown's Mayfair festival.

The audience of what looked like about 3,000 people at the Cabaret main stage was so frenzied that they crowd-surfed, the first time this reviewer has seen that at Mayfair.

Matisyahu also made the show potentially dangerous when, 30 minutes into a 100-minute concert, he opened the gates to the paid-ticket section, letting the free crowd flood into the area nearest the stage. It was so crowded, people stood on chairs and atop each other.

That was an unfair distraction to a show that started strong. Opening with ''Jerusalem (Out of the Darkness Comes Light),'' the lanky singer spin-danced all over stage to the roar of the crowd, closing his eyes as he hit soaring notes.

Dressed in a black overcoat -- which he kept on for the entire show and kept closed for half of it -- Matisyahu cut an odd but intriguing figure. He would dance enthusiastically some times, in slow motion at others and assume prayerful stances at still others.

Backed by a tight three-man band, he barely took a break in the entire show, smiled exactly twice and addressed the audience sparingly.

His music was equally intriguing. He sang some songs in a Jamaican accent, while others, such as ''Exaltation,'' were more monastery chants or sonic moaning than singing -- ethereal and heavy on echo effect. While it often was moving, it crossed over into indulgent later in the show on ''Warrior.''

It was clear that, despite an adoring crowd, Matisyahu was singing for himself. He often seemed to go to a higher plane -- jumping maniacally and standing atop his stage monitors for long, loud, echo-y notes on ''Chop 'Em Down.''

A three-minute beat-boxing interlude on ''For You'' was far better -- the speedy beats got cheers and had the crowd clapping along. So were his machine-gun-fast raps on ''Youth'' (when he chanted on that song, the crowd chanted back) and scat singing on ''Thunder.''

The crowd loved it all. They jumped, waved their arms, pointed and danced. Perhaps the marijuana smoke in the air, evident by the second song, had something to do with that.

Ironically, Matisyahu made short work of perhaps his best song, ''One Day,'' the 2010 Winter Olympics theme that had the crowd cheering from the start, swaying and singing along. In a show that had only 11 songs (meaning they averaged nine minutes each with their long interludes), he breezed through ''One Day'' in just five minutes.

Luckily, he had an equally popular song, ''King Without a Crown,'' with which to close the show. And he made the most of it -- stretching it past 20 minutes. After more spit-fire rapping, he stood off to one side of the stage nodding his head and jumping as the band played.

Then he added a three-minute spoken-word interlude, with more echo-y chants, and rocked back and forth -- enraptured again -- as the stage went dark.


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