Matisyahu Pops Up at OpenHouse Gallery on Mulberry

Posted on: December 20th, 2011 at 10:19 am by

It was the tweet heard round the world; the microblogging equivalent of Dylan going electric.  “At the break of day I look for you at sunrise/When the tide comes in I lose my disguise.” But the lyrical reference to his song “Thunder” was accompanied by a pair of shockingly beardless self portraits. Matthew “Matisyahu” Miller had shaved off his trademark beard and sidecurls and proclaimed “No more Chassidic reggae superstar.”

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Critics everywhere speculated and buzzed. Is Matisyahu losing it? Many who revered him as he set examples for religious people everywhere felt shocked and betrayed. Set to begin his trademark “Festival of Lights” annual Chanukah tour to celebrate the Jewish holiday, a religiously-confused star just seemed a bit out of place.

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A few hours before he kicked off the New York leg of said tour in Williamsburg, Matisyahu made an appearance in a Rolling Stone-sponsored event at the Park Here pop-up at 201 Mulberry (aka OpenHouse Gallery). The semi-surprise event quickly drew tons of attention and the space filled blazingly fast. The crowd buzzed with wonder: how will he pull this off a mere three hours before the main event?

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Suddenly, the buzz stopped dead silent, as if witnessing something surreal. Doling out silent high fives,  Matisyahu’s arrival hushed the gathered crowd. He took a seat next to two of his band members who instantly laid down a classic dub beat. Freestyling and beatboxing intermittently, Matisyahu mixed in some of his trademark lyrics from older songs. He brought the shaving scandal full circle by playing a mellowed out version of “Thunder,” oft-tweeted lyrics and all. We should mention that before starting, he drew timid reactions, mostly due to the overwhelming curiosity and shock. But as he weaved from song to song, the applause grew louder as fans felt at home again. For many, it was a heartwarming performance, and a privilege to reconnect with the artist, who many consider something of a brother, in such an intimate setting.  Being packed into a close, warm, grassy space certainly helped bring out auras of peaceful reunion.

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Throughout the night, Matis’ demeanor was a parallel to that of the Chanukah protagonist Maccabees themselves: resilient and calm in the face of immense turmoil. For those expecting something different from Mr. Miller, they got the same old Matisyahu they’ve known and loved for years, without the follicles. Though he looks different on the outside, setting off confusion and occasional disgust within his fanbase, inside he is battling to maintain the persona he has always kept. Slightly enigmatic as always, the band halted their set after about 40 minutes and apologized, to confused applause, for needing to conserve energy for the bigger performance later. After hugging anyone who approached him, the artist formerly portrayed as “Hassidic reggae superstar” vanished into the night, as enigmatic a character as the equally Jewish Bob Dylan before him.

Writeup and photos by Benjamin Tocker

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