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Matisyahu, Regency Ballroom, San Francisco, CA – 8/3

The meaning of being an artist, a true artist, is constantly striving to grow. Matisyahu has taken his trademark speedy delivery and uplifting lyrics and created a new sound for his long-time fans. Performing at San Francisco’s intimate Regency Ballroom, Matisyahu and the Dub Trio proudly showed off the genre-crossing set that they’ve put together. The Dub Trio opened for him and then played on as his backing band for Matisyahu’s set. For long time fans, this is a new sound from the reggae and dubbed out arrangements of his old songs. The newcomers to his performance surely didn’t mind the well-crafted rock show they got to see.

After Matisuahu’s opening song in which the proud papa was joined by his young son, the Billboard-charting “One Day” quickly got any expectations out of the way that this was the same Matisyahu from four years ago. This show wasn’t the tripped-out, socially uplifting reggae that casual fans were expecting. What followed was a rock show, pure and simple. The Dub Trio was laying down a heavy, intricately layered rock backing that gave Matisyahu the ability to flow over the top of the sound. The band and artist were so in sync that one would think they had been playing together for years. They managed to kick out danceable tunes for a night of surprises. The obligatory, “King Without A Crown” was turned around and sped up, making one of his trademark songs a banging rocker. The crowd was enjoying it, making the old ballroom bounce up and down with happy fans.

The Regency Ballroom managed to be spacious and intimate at the same time. A perfect space for Matisyahu to engage with the crowd and range across the stage, weaving and dancing, he pulled the crowd along with him. There was plenty of room to dance and no lines for the bars, but the music engulfed the hall without being overpowering. Upstairs, most of the seating was filled but downstairs, almost filled as well, there was plenty of room to dance and mingle and have a good night. Matisyahu made a stylistic change but San Francisco ballrooms love to stay just the same.

Whether he is wearing a shawl, a hoodie, or even with his eyes closed, Matisyahu has a wonderful stage presence. With the material surely arranged differently than most of his old crowd expected it to be, he sold his new vision of the songs, as well as any artist has. Fans of only his new album probably were not expecting the deep dub beats and reggae of his older more traditional roots sound. Reggae tends to get slighted in the mainstream musical zeitgeist and Matisyahu was being grouped into that pigeonhole. This electric performance showed why he is on five different billboard charts. It is refreshing to see an artist confident enough in his own vision to radically change his sound and deliver even the older songs as if that is how they were written. The evening at the Regency in San Francisco was an exciting and inspiring expression of an artist at work. While there are bound to be people unhappy with the harder, rock sound, the joy and excitement that Matisyahu brings to the music likely will win them over.

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