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Matisyahu, The Jewish Mother, Virginia Beach, VA 7/13

A rare chance to give some promoters a Big Up: The Jewish Mother, an unassuming bar/restaurant, located a rock's toss from the ocean front in Virginia Beach, VA, seems to be a hot stopping spot and one-off joint, as of late. Thanks to the young-but-active local promotion company, QuiVa Productions, within the last year The Jewish Mother has locked Off The Radar (Particle, minus bassist) for an unscheduled (announced day of) one-off on their day off – a few nights after playing as Particle in Norfolk's much larger NorVa Theater. QuiVa also managed to pull in legendary jazz drummer Mike Clark's Prescription Trio to the venue, during its limited run (featuring Skerik), the same night as Oteil and the Peacemakers (now becoming regulars to the venue), etc. Together with another local and young-but-active Reggae-minded promotion company, Humble Ark, they team to draw select Reggae artists to The Jewish Mother and other area spots. Bad Brains' elusive HR is coming and Roots band Gomba Jahbari just visited, for its last stop on a limited U.S. run (out of Puerto Rico). John Brown's Body came recently (photos from the venue made their Tour Diary section of the June/July 2005 issue of Relix), Soldiers of Jah Army just played and Matisyahu was convinced to stop at the aptly named venue, one night before blowing away All Good 2005's Thursday-night campers. It's nice to see more artists avoiding opting to deal direct with young, active local promoters.

To the show at hand: If you go to enough shows in your area, you know what your scene looks like on an average night. Matisyahu changed the scene I usually see, when he came to the Jewish Mother…mixing devout Rastafarians (showing interest in the deeper root of their faith) with general reggae fans and tons of Jewish kids, who may not have been to a lot of Reggae shows before. You’ll never hear me complain about new faces in the crowd (so long as their not too drunk and in my face) and it’s for that reason I’m most thankful for Matisyahu and other original and conscious Reggae acts. So much crap reggae is being spoon fed on the radio these days…artists like Matisyahu offer a healthy second, maybe it’s the third or fourth, breath to a genre that isn’t all that old to begin with.

Matisyahu sold out the 350-tight capacity venue by 6:30PM, the night of the show (I know some missed-out folk who were feeling pretty down about that), a feat for an artist still getting his feet wet in the broader pool, also quite promising. You probably won’t see him in small venues much longer. The Jewish Mother was as sweltering and as packed (hence the swelter) as I’ve ever felt it, so Matisyahu, guitarist Aaron Dugan, bassist Josh Werner and drummer Jonah David literally had to sweat the session out, along with the rest of us. Matisyahu was visibly dripping wet, but his vertical leaping ability wasn’t hindered, at all.

No opener, Matisyahu banged out a single 90 minute set/encore to people who really didn’t need an opener. The set-list was largely a cut from Matisyahu’s Live at Stubb’s release, almost exactly in order, but for interspersed songs from his studio disc. I’m curious of his choice to present a similar mix on tour as was release on CD, only because Matisyahu is an admitted once-upon-a-time Phish tour head nothing remained constant in Phish’s set-lists, but he’s been re-inspired and operates on a different tip now preaching rather than strictly entertaining. Either way, "Chop em Down" made the Mother leap from its foundation (Matisyahu’s voice is indeed a blessing), "Warrior" was minimally dubbed and also allowed a healthy drum-solo block (bad ass), "Exaltation" was a later high-stepping highlight and then there was that glorious "Rastaman Chant," with an extended message. Matisyahu spoke, "Just like a bird has two wings that it flies with, so to, when a person stands before the almighty, the creator of the world and the universe, they have to have, also, two wings. They have to come with truth and honesty in their heart, that they’re standing before the creator, they’re not trying to serve themselves, they’re not trying to serve any other thing, but they’re serving only one thing. They want only the truth; they want only what’s real; they want only life and they have to fly with two wings." Singing again, "If I had the wings like a dove, If I had the wings of a dove, said I’d fly away home to Zion…" Tangential, the song entered an unexpected grinding rock groove, proving Matisyahu’s talented band can do it all, if they so choose.

I feel honored that I saw this foursome in a venue this size, and am thankful to live near a venue like The Jewish Mother. There aren’t many well known, yet still intimate (350 capacity, or less) venues around that draw medium to larger sized acts, like the ones mentioned, on a regular basis. Thanks to local promoters looking out for our ears and the willingness of artists like Matisyahu to forego larger venues and national promoters (time will tell he’s still only a recent success), although sometimes there are more willing ticket buyers than tickets available at these smaller spots, places like The Jewish Mother can operate under the scope of larger monopolistic promotion companies. The following night Matisyahu was on a much cooler and airier All Good stage anyhow. It was beautiful (I was blessed to see them again), but I hope they’re appreciating the fleeting opportunity successful artists encounter, to share a handshake with rowdy fans in up close front rows that only small clubs/bars can offer.

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