Concert review: An acoustic evening with Matisyahu at Tampa Theatre (with photos)

Following the Tampa Bay Jewish Film festival at the historic Tampa Theatre, Matisyahu made a brief appearance before his set at 7:30 p.m. The Hasidic Jewish reggae rock musician attracted quite the following and the sold-out show was definitely a testament to his wide and avid fan base.

Tampa Theatre provided an entirely appropriate setting for the evening — romantic, intimate and calming. The stage setup was simple, with just a stool, a chair, a guitar, a mic and a few amps and speakers, Matisyahu accompanied only by guitarist Adam Weinberg.

There was no opener, just Matisyahu and Weinberg for a few hours on a Sunday evening. They opened with “Sunshine,” a relatively new and unrecorded piece, and the crowd welcomed it, grooving along with each note. His beat-boxing combined with melodic phrasing and slam-poetry-like lyrics makes for both visually and aurally hypnotizing entertainment, the people in the crowd gazing peacefully and pensively at Matisyahu as the evening to unfolded.

Dressed in sneakers, jeans, a plaid button-down and gray sweatshirt, Matisyahu seemed at ease as he delivered the lyrics to another newer song, “Open the Gates.” The aura was spiritual in every aspect and the storytelling through music was powerful, to say the least. His prosaic, rhythmical and faithful lyrics were inspiring and extremely calming. Through each song, it was amazing how much it didn't feel like he was preaching at all, instead, as if he were sharing his feelings about his faith via his lyrical mazes.

His beautiful and fluid voice filled the theater, and when he transitioned into beat box sections, it was hard to believe all that was coming out of just one man. His mannerisms and movements proved the music was pulsating through his entire body. His concentration, control and precision with the music he was playing captivated.

Keeping the vibe even more comfortable and tranquil, he’d banter with fans and completely interact with everything and everyone. He was real on stage, which isn’t something you can say about every artist you see onstage. He was uninhibited and personable. They broke in between the set to answer questions and get to know his fans. He told great family, tour, and life stories that made him even more charming, if possible.

The communication between Matisyahu and Ben Weinberg was as entertaining to watch as the music itself. Weinberg could literally finish his phrases, well his musical phrases that it, just by watching Matisyahu’s gestures and facial expressions. Their chemistry onstage was unique and made for an amazing set.

The best way to describe the evening would have to be, “Zen,” or at least, zen-like. It was enlightening and spiritual in every aspect. When you listen to Matisyahu, his passion transcends through his music as it is, but watching it unfold live is an entirely different experience, in the best way. There was a point when he was harmonizing and he said, “See I could sit on this all day, because it feels so good.” He sang this stunning array of notes, strung together making an amazing melody and then asked, “See, what I mean?” The crowd nodded, implying that we felt it too.

He admitted that at shows sometimes he would say things and know that when he watched them later on YouTube, he’d think, “Man, I’m an idiot.” He poked fun at the crowd and had fun with everyone there. He said he didn’t really drink but, “I like shitty, cheap, beer, excuse me.” The entire theatre laughed as he asked for someone to acquire that quality of beer.

During the second and last conversational part of the evening he admitted that beat boxing was the thing he used to do when he cut class. That’s was kids were doing so he did it too. “I never had the focus to sit down and learn an instrument,” confessed Matisyahu. They closed the evening after all the amusing, silly and even strange communications with the audience with “One Day,” “Silence,” “Chop ‘Em Down,” and “So Hi, So Lo.”

The acoustic evening with Matisyahu was truly a moving and spiritual show. He made you feel like you were along on the musical journey with him. It was such a calming and enjoyable experience. His connection with god is as inspiring as his music. He’s an amazing singer, great lyricist, tremendous performer and awe-inspiring soul. Those of us at the Tampa Theatre on Sunday feel lucky to have shared his presence and were definitely awakened by the performance. If spending the end of your weekend with Matisyahu isn’t a magnificent way to start the week, I’m not sure I know what is!

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