By David Chernyavsky
As the doors to Ace of Spades promptly opened at 7 p.m. Tuesday, I stood at the back of an eager, fan-filled line wrapping around the block. To my slight disappointment, I didn’t spot any Hasidic Jews within our Sacramento region sporting their humble garb.
Not a sidelock, or poyet was in sight, let alone any dreadlocks. It seemed like a casual Sacramento crowd. Then again, Matisyahu doesn’t really fit into the usual mold of reggae culture, so why expect the fans to?
Matisyahu started his career with a novel identity as the Hasidic reggae superstar. The unorthodox public image worked in his favor until late December 2011 when he shaved his beard, which caused his devotees to respond with an uproar of outrage.
Even in line at Ace of Spades, I overheard some disappointment from fans who learned for the first time of the news of his new look. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop the venue from hosting a nearly sold-out show last night.
The Constellations, an Atlanta-based group, opened the night with their eclectic brand of rock, blues, pop and hip hop. Their wide range of sound, coupled with their lively performance (especially the band’s afro-sporting bassist, whom many dubbed a Bob Ross doppelganger), was a perfect fit to rouse a packed house of Matisyahu enthusiasts.
After a 30 minute breather, the lights dimmed and the crowd did the usual swarm towards the edge of the stage as music began to play. Suddenly, the lights blasted on, and out of the fog rose Matisyahu in all his normality.
The audience was in an uproar of embrace, contrary to the backlash and confusion that hit fans earlier this year when word of his new look was still fresh. By this point, people moved on and came out for the music, and that is something this reggae superstar could still deliver — beard or no beard.
Opening with “Crossroads” from his 2012 album “Spark Seeker,” lyrics like “I’m still young having mystic visions of the One” and “I’m a slave to the throne/the chariot of flames is my home” give witness to the spiritual context ever-present in Matisyahu’s music. His performance continued with varying mash-ups of old and new tunes typically less familiar to an occasional listener. However, based on the crowd’s indulgent cheering, this show was fulfilling for any die-hard fan.
It was only during his encore set that Matisyahu broke out into his popular beat boxing solo, took part in his trademark crowd-surfing antics, and finally closed the show with arguably his biggest hit, “One Day.”
He invited the adoring spectators to join him onstage and sing along to his familiar refrain, praying for no more war and a place for children to play, all while holding the hand of a child onstage.
Although the Hasidic image may have initially garnered some attention and fascination from the public, ultimately it was Matisyahu’s message and music that won the hearts of fans.