I was 18 years old when I bought Youth, the debut LP from the then-Hassidic Jewish rapper Matisyahu. While I was listening to a lot of different types of music in the early aughts, there was something just fucking weird and alluring about this dude rapping/singing/beatboxing in full-on Orthodox Jew ensemble talking spirituality and using a Jamaican accent. And even if you didn't get down with Jehovah, or even listen to reggae, Matisyahu was able to blend in elements of hip-hop and indie rock for a sound that garnered him international recognition and a Grammy-nomination for Best Reggae Album in 2006 for Youth. On tour in support of his new album Undercurrent (released in May) Matisyahu brought his eclectic mix of rap, rock and reggae to the Empire Theatre.
After getting lost in the new downtown construction (which probably won’t be done for like a few years as per San Antonio) I finally arrive at the Empire Theatre and am ushered into a real mix of a crowd: a few folks with dreadlocks, black t-shirt and jeans bros and their dress ‘n’ heel girlfriends, teenagers and even folks in their fifties.
Opening the show is Orphan, a three-piece instrumental band from Brooklyn. Blending elements of post-rock and bits of reggae, Orphan’s 40-minute set felt very laid-back, like, the music sounded good, but the vibe I got from the band was almost too chill. But they might’ve all just been really high, so who knows. The audience, who was getting increasingly pumped (with excitement and alcohol) seemed to dig them a lot.
Up next was Common Kings. Now, I go out and review shows at least once a week, so I get to see a ton of awesome live music and I can say confidently that Common Kings might be in my top five performances of this year. The four-piece, whose roots are Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga, but based in Costa Mesa, California, actually opened for Justin Timberlake for several dates back in 2015, which isn’t exactly a small accomplishment. The band exploded onto the stage and rocked the audience through an hour of soulful (and I do mean soulful as Sasualei “Jr King” Maliga got some pipes on him), R&B, rock and reggae. The band even did a cover of Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode” and the audience lost it’s collective minds.
Next up was Matisyahu, who was also showing up to beatbox randomly during Common Kings’ and Orphans’ sets. The crowd cheered as Matisyahu came onto the stage with his backing three-piece band pulling the audience through a collection of tracks from across his extensive catalog. On “King Without A Crown,” arguably the artist’s most well-known track, Matisyahu’s band sort of breaks into this weird trap rap version of the song which was sort of cool and unexpected but didn’t seem to fit the mood of the song. A lot of his songs actually went in weird jam-bandy directions, as reggae can sort of do, turning 3-minute songs into 10-minute jams. The singer invited Common Kings back onto the stage to close the night with Common Kings’ “Broken Crowns" and later the Matisyahu hit “One Day.”
Overall the show was good (probably great if you were stoned), and if you dig drawn out reggae instrumentals like the ones during Matisyahu’s set, you won’t want to miss the next time he’s in town.