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Matisyahu’s Annual Festival of Light Tour at Webster Hall

by Joe Lopergalo on December 24, 2013

Matisyahu’s Annual Festival of Light Tour

Webster Hall

New York, NY

December 8

It is not unheard of by any means for a concertgoer to look to the ceiling of a venue and find his or her eyes fixated on a shimmering, mirrored ball in the center of the room, suspended high above the heads of hundreds of music-lovers. It is, on the other hand, a bit unusual when that giant mirrored centerpiece is shaped like a traditional Jewish dreidel; unexpected, but not unwelcome.

When the concert in question is Matisyahu’s annual Festival of Lights celebration, however, the past several years are a fairly solid indication that this is not an uncommon sight to behold. Now in its seventh incarnation, the celebratory tour has become a Matisyahu fan-favorite and nothing short of a tradition. The eight-date Midwest/Northeast tour hit New York City’s Webster Hall on December 8 this year.

Opening for the roots/reggae rocker was a little known, self-proclaimed “white Jewish rapper from New Jersey” named Rami Matan Even-Esh, though much better known by his stage name Kosha Dillz. Dillz, who was joined by Theivery Corporation drummer Congo Sanchez on a stripped-down kit, coupled modern hip-hop beats with old-school hip hop call-and-response vocals (a la Run DMC or the Beastie Boys) with his collaborative partner, rapper Flex Mathews. The throwback to the roots of hip-hop was very well received and somewhat surprised garnered smiles from the largely yarmulke-clad crowd of mostly twenty-somethings.

If the name Kosha Dillz doesn’t ring a bell (it didn’t for me, but I will certainly pay attention after seeing his impressive live tenacity), it is likely that his 2011 hit “Cellular Phone” may help jog the memory. As Dillz reminded his audience, it was indeed the soundtrack song to “the number-one highest selling Bud Light commercial” at a Superbowl. Still nothing? It was the “Knick-knack patty-whack, give a dog a bone” song. All silliness aside, Dillz is beginning to make some waves in the music business, and opening for a figure like Matisyahu in a city like New York after an eight-year hip-hop career is certainly a boost for the 32-year old rapper, who brought his parents down from Webster’s balcony and onto the stage for his finale. In his own words, “Dreams do happen.”

When Matisyahu took the stage at about 9:30, the floor space of the concert hall had officially filled. It was clear that the crowd was in for a treat when the headliner brought a live painter who began setting up an easel and canvas that became a full production in and of itself throughout the show. The artist painted carefully, utilizing long brush-strokes and colors reminiscent of sunsets all while Matisyahu worked through his hits.

With a career-spanning setlist that drew largely on triumphant hits such as the sing-along “Sunshine,” “King Without a Crown” and “I Believe in Love,” the Brooklyn-turned-Los Angeles singer took his audience through a journey that was at once celebratory and spiritual. There were numerous moments during the first three-quarters of the performance where the majority of the Lower East Side venue could be seen jumping for joy, tossing their hands in the air to the rhythm of the music and singing along to every syllable. After bringing a guest tenor saxophone player on stage to aid in a rousing performance of 2006’s “Jerusalem” (a song based on a Biblical psalm that first appeared on his debut album, Youth), Matisyahu turned the tides and had his band discard their instruments and exchange them for acoustic counterparts.

The acoustic set was short-lived but powerful nonetheless. This sequence reinforced how Matisyahu's faith empowers him, as he rocked back and forth during the most emotional segments in an almost prayer-like trance. Bringing a bouncy, dramatic number such as “Live Like a Warrior” down to a moving acoustic piece brought out Matis’ most powerful vocals. For a singer who can, at times, get lost in the background of his own lyrical speed, this is an area in which Matisyahu shines through and positively delivers.

Not to end the evening on a solemn note, Matisyahu and his band invited both fans and show-openers alike to flood the stage and join them for one last song. A tremendously rousing take on 2009’s “One Day,” complete with a sea of excitement on stage, made for a reminder that this is indeed a season of celebration and unity, a message not lost at any Matisyahu performance.

Authors: Joe Lopergalo