Words & Images by: Jesse Borrell
Matisyahu/The Crystal Method :: 12.21.08 :: Webster Hall :: New York, NY
Attending the third annual "Festival of Light," a camera-ready, self-described spiritualist and hundreds of his closest strangers braved a Northeastern snowstorm on the first night of Hanukkah. Hosting the heavy hitting beats of The Crystal Method and the ever-pious rock of Matisyahu, NYC's Webster Hall welcomed in all those searching for extensions of their personal freedom.
|Matisyahu :: 12.21 :: NYC|
The Crystal Method, consisting of Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland, has been innovators of their respective craft since the early '90s. The duo arrived onstage and introduced the opening synth-subtleties of "High Roller," one of the more heavy hitting tracks off the 1997's multi-platinum Vegas. With Jordan at the helm, Kirkland raised his arms towards the crowd while mouthing the ominous lyrics, "This transmission is coming to you. You got it." While there were many who did indeed catch the vibe, the masses seemed unaware of the historic gravity surrounding the deep beats. Those dancing had to carve their personal space as the room became increasingly dense.
Webster Hall was definitely an intimate setting to watch the Method, artists familiar with filling the largest of venues over the years, and although an avid fan ever since Vegas, this was my first time seeing them live. Unfortunately, onstage antics didn't give the viewer an in-depth look at how the music was being crafted. An errant twist of a controller knob and the typical one-eared headphone adjustment under a dim blue light left me wanting more from the performance as "Comin' Back" probed deeper within older material.
The twosome switched control back and forth as a heated "Bound Too Long" and "Busy Child" mash-up intertwined towards a siren-laden transition into another classic. "Keep Hope Alive" is one of Crystal Method's most famous tracks and I was surprised once again how many people in the audience were unfamiliar with the almost iconic rhythms and Jesse Jackson sampled choruses. As expected, the crowd became most animated when our host, Matisyahu, came out to add an exotic vocal build to the set's last offering.
|The Crystal Method with Matisyahu :: 12.21 :: NYC|
Matisyahu, a.k.a. Mathew Miller, and band walked onstage with something to prove throughout the intense, energetic melee of "Escape." Drummer Scoota Warner began the track's intro in a breakbeat fashion, expanding the simplistic reggae sounds of "Escape" towards the electronica side of music's spectrum. The musicians commanded our attention, jumping around in pure rock form while being immersed within thick beams of white light. Matisyahu, ever the prophet, stood above the crowd with one foot on his vocal monitor singing about life's breakout moments, embodying his message through full body emancipation.
The crowd immediately acknowledged the opening notes for "Jerusalem," and sang along with our host under an enormous spinning disco dreidel. Verses were traded back and forth throughout, and the audience seemed to be purely living through the words. Eventually, the masses were sent into passion as descriptions of peace throughout the Holy Land entwined with another effortless, spiral-like solo by guitarist Aaron Dugan. Fast forward to "Struggla," a new track off Matisyahu's upcoming Light LP, and one got a thick mix of dancehall riddims with sampled female choruses that gave a possible glimpse of the progression of Matisyahu's sound.
One of the highlights of the night occurred when Matisyahu invited a friend up to have a beat box jam over the plucks of what looked to be a large sitar. Wondrous sound imagery emerged within this give and take, a poetic dance between the fast claps of a machine gun and the slow, Zen-like croaks of a didgeridoo deflecting all harm. By the end of the heated onomatopoetic discussion, Matis offered water to the crowd by throwing his full bottle into the front pit. "It's not holy water. I'm not a rabbi. I'm just a rapper, man, right?" The crowd pushed and shoved. "Well, that's the last of that. Chill. Chill. Chill. Chill."
|Matisyahu :: 12.21 :: NYC|
The ferocious hip-hop styled lyrical delivery of another newer track, "Smash Lies" off 2008's Shattered EP, challenged listeners to reexamine the constant barrage of one's daily grind. Continuous, tight electronic beats battled against dirty guitar licks, repeating and progressing without losing steam over Matis' rhythmically packed tones. Dugan's intensity surpassed almost his own fingers as the production took us towards another high, only hints of silhouettes through blinding light giving the audience a clue to who was creating all of this frantic noise.
As things settled down, Matis switched gears towards a subtle chant and extended towards the crowd for help in lighting the first candle on the Menorah. These mellower moments recalled a JamBase interview where the man gave insight about the importance of serenity to balance out the peaks. As the spiritualist exited back into the night, beings of all shapes and sizes raced about the streets of New York, caught up in their own personal acts of release.
Check out our exclusive video interview with Matisyahu on JamBaseTV.
Continue reading for pics of Matisyahu's 12/23 Festival of Light celebration with U-Melt...