Matisyahu and Spearhead, with Michael Franti. At the Santa
Barbara Bowl, Tuesday, August 8.
Reviewed by Matt Kettmann
As usual, the first band at last
Tuesday’s Bowl show opened to an embarrassingly small crowd. But
rather than complain about our hallowed venue’s early start
times — that’s the way it is and ever shall be — it’s about time we
adapt and learn to be on time. That’s especially the case when the
concert’s first chapter is a show-stealing band such as Spearhead,
led by the poetically prophetic Michael Franti.
Opening with soon-to-be-hits off his new album Yell Fire!,
Franti immediately had the growing crowd rocking out. It was a
testament to Franti’s inspirational groovyness, both musically — in
his blend of funk, soul, rock, R&B, hip-hop, and reggae — and
lyrically, in his upholding righteousness, peace, and unity.
There’s no doubt that Spearhead is the soundtrack to the ongoing
revolution against Western imperialism.
With the post-sunset blue sky colliding with the stage’s fiery
orange lights, the first beats of “Rastaman Chant” began. As a
white mist coagulated, the black-clad Matisyahu emerged, singing
the haunting lyrics of Rastafari’s holy hymnal. Yet, being a white,
Hassidic, “born-again” Jew from New York and not a black Rasta from
Jamaica, Matisyahu only used the “I hear the words of the higher
man say” version (not invoking the traditional “Rasta man” lyrics).
That left the song’s collective emphasis decidedly on flying “away
home to Zion,” a powerful notion not lost on the crowd — which
included quite a few yarmulkes and at least one other man in full
Hassidic garb — as Israel continues its war in Lebanon.
Gallivanting about with white tzitzit fringes a-sway, jumping
upon tall speakers, and spouting his popular brand of
dancehall/hip-hop/reggae, Matisyahu overcame charges of being a
Saturday Night Live-like gimmick thanks to his strong musical
skills. While not blowing away everyone last Tuesday — including
this reggae-loving reviewer, who was wondering why it took a
novelty act to make fairly standard dancehall grooves appeal to the
masses — many were screaming wildly and singing in unison. Throw in
some beat-boxin’ and a congo vs. drum set pound-off (but subtract
that truly poor rap sesh from one of the star’s White Plains
buddies), and the evening made for a Tuesday well-spent.
What made it memorable, though, happened around 10 p.m.,
when — after an encore of the radio-played “King Without a Crown”
and his new title track “Youth” — Matisyahu was joined by Michael
Franti for a sing-along of “Is Love Enough?” Aside from the fact
that they were breaking the Bowl’s strict curfew, the image of
Franti (who’s recently been defending Palestinians) and Matisyahu
(who’s clearly pro-Israel) playing together will live long. Perhaps
they were cut short, but not before their messages of revolution,
revelation, and redemption were delivered.