Thursday, April 27, 2006

BREAKING NEWS: Coachella Lineup Schedule Released

Great news for anybody heading to Coachella, or watching the live webcast... Drum roll please... The lineup schedule has been released:

I'm so psyched!  This will be my first Coachella, and I'm practically beside myself with glee.

Of all the bands, I'm most psyched to see Bloc Party, Massive Attack, Matisyahu, Common, Seu Jorge, Los Amigos Invisibles, and of course Madonna -- assuming I can muscle my way into the tent during her set. I'm also curious about checking out the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sigur Ros, Daft Punk, Mylo, Scissor Sisters, Amadou & Mariam, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Damian Marley, TV On the Radio, Ladytron, CYHSY, Devendra Banhart, Cat Power, Animal Collective, and Lady Sovereign for the first time.

You going, too? Where will you be, and when? Here's a handy map.

 Let us know which bands you'll be checking out!

Monday, April 24, 2006


You'll never believe: Axl Rose and the current lineup of Guns n' Roses are ready to play their first NY gigs in years!  Tickets went on sale April 21st for their two dates at Hammerstein Ballroom, May 15th and 17th.

Need tickets? Get 'em here.

I can't say I'm excited, but I will admit this is one of those jaw-dropping revelations. Whodathunk that Axl could get it together enough to actually book the date?!  Here's hoping he shows up to play it!

Meanwhile, askerin had the following to say about her last GNR experience:

"i have to say, i saw the last show GNR played -- and i do mean the last: it was after the MSG show i saw that he canceled that tour so mysteriously -- and it was just weeeeeeeird. axl ran offstage between every song to change his shirt. it was like they had a fleet of axl robots lined up back there."

Friday, April 14, 2006


Go ahead, show off. We know you want to.

Had any flashes of brilliance lately? Got a poll question you think rocks? Dying to know the dirt on other fans? Or maybe you think you've got a poll question that puts ours to shame. Whatever the case, don't keep it to yourself...   Tell us!


Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Tell Us What You Think: Agree with Ames' take on seeing Matisyahu? Feel like she must be deaf, dumb and blind? This is your chance to spout off and share your opinion.

Do you agree? Let us know if you see eye to eye.

Not sure what to say? Read our review to get started.

Got another set list? Post it here so we can compare shows!


Youth CD Release Party, Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC, March 7

"So this Hasidic reggae singer walks into a bar…"

I know, I know. The first time I heard about a white, Hasidic "rapper," as he was first described by news syndicates, I waited a beat for the punch-line. The headline, "Straight Outta West Chester? Meet Hasidic Hip-Hopper Matisyahu" immediately snagged my attention. (, 3/31/05) What the…? I couldn't help but click. His performance at 2005's South by Southwest "was one of the festival's most talked-about events," you say? Is this guy for real? I was riveted. I simply had to watch the footage from SXSW. And so it began.

I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to be roped in with the outrageousness of the pitch, impressed with his actual talent, and finally converted into a die-hard fan. All of us hooked by one of the most outrageous and compelling concepts in recent memory, it's the most brilliant marketing scheme I've ever seen. But it's not a marketing scheme at all. It's not a gimmick. He is the real deal.

Matis really is a reggae artist, who honed his chops via a healthy obsession with Bob Marley and the vocal stylings of Sizzla. He really is a Hasidic Jew, complete with prayer shawl, chest length beard, traditional black overcoat, broad-brimmed hat, and all. But it's not a costume or an affectation. Anyone who hears his lyrics can attest to that. As can the female fans who are rebuffed when they try to shake his hand, and tour promoters who try to book him on a Friday night. It's not a put-on, it's not for show. But it certainly makes for an interesting show… live show, that is.

Matisyahu is a phenomenon. More unusual, consideringthe ultra-packaged evolution of today's pop culture landscape, he's a live performance phenomenon. When was the last time a total unknown blew up the charts with a live CD? Let alone a relatively low-budget recording of a live show at a small saloon somewhere in Texas?! Not even his jam band idols, Phish, can claim that feat. But there you have it. He was discovered because of the merit of his live performances at SXSW. He became a star on the merits of a full-length live recording.

So, it was with great anticipation that I approached Hammerstein Ballroom for the CD release gig celebrating his first major label release, Youth. Immediately I'm struck by the diversity of the crowd. Yes, there are yarmulkes as far as the eye can see, but all ethnicities, ages, and religions are here to represent. The place is packed, the sold out crowd stretching to the rafters. It's the largest sold-out capacity Matisyahu has ever played. In the top-most box seats I even spy some Hasidim representing Matis' Crown Heights posse. Yes, that sounds glib, but I'm fascinated by the presence of the elders in full Hasidic garb, so seemingly out of place in these surroundings.

When openers Balkan Beat Box take the stage ("Yo, straight from Brooklyn, it's BBB"), I can't help but giggle. They are a riot, like watching Fiddler on the Roof with a horn section, or Tevye singing "If I Were a Rich Man" with an electric guitar. With Eastern European flava pouring forth from a 6-man ensemble, they add trombone, sax, and a multi-instrumentalist with a penchant for noisemakers to your traditional bass/guitar/drum lineup. Clearly, they are not going to be understood by everyone here. But in time, all are caught up in the trance of the beat and interwoven horn lines - all carried on a solid groove foundation by the rhythm section.

Imagine Eastern European gipsy music with its minor chord sensibilities. Add a swinging bass, dance-party drums, guest MCs, hip-hop and trance samples, throw in some salsa, and pepper with the attitude of a Mediterranean plate-smasher. Balkan Beat Box may well do for klezmer what Panjabi MC did for Indian hip-hop. It's the sonic equivalent of your Cantor officiating a Greek wedding where Bulgarian musicians play gipsy hip-hop to a flamenco beat, while Ofrah Haza wails in the background. With Bulgarian, Moroccan, Spanish, Israeli and Palestinian members, they don't need to be given the mash-up treatment - they are a mash-up.

When Matisyahu's band takes the stage, they begin the set just as he began his Live at Stubbs album, with the thudding bass line intro of "Sea to Sea." The drums have achieved a hypnotic, almost tribal, drums-in-the-desert sound. After easing us into their meditative groove, Matis finally makes his entrance. Instead of launching into the vocals, he sits back and enjoys the sound his band is pumping.

When he grabs the mic, he lifts his voice to the rafters with melodic, vocalese improvisation, then hits us with the song's opening lines in Hebrew, and finally sings in English, "Open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise." It's not long before he's scatting in the traditional reggae mode. This beginning is a fitting testament to the contradiction in terms that is Matisyahu. A message of praise delivered on a magic carpet ride of reggae, with a visual so incongruous you just have to smile, sit back and accept it.

I overhear "Oh my God, I'm rolling so hard!" on my left, and see the glow of an E-Z Wider on my right. It's obviously not an entirely straight-edge crowd following the anti-drug message in Matis' lyrics. But, as he explained to SPIN Magazine (March, 2006), Matis accepts that it's part of the live reggae culture. He explains that the experimentation he did in the past, 'eating of the apple from the tree of knowledge,' was one of the steps on his path. So how, he wonders, can he fault the audience for following their own course and indulging?

Matisyahu's voice is clear, malleable and easy, with an impressively wide range that he navigates effortlessly. I'm also impressed by the musicianship of the band. Not a Jamaican in sight, the band was formed with a trio of Matis' friends from his pre-Hasidic childhood, after reconnecting at a Phish show. The bassist, in particular, is the anchor of the reggae sound. While I'm not a fan of meandering guitar solos, I have to admit that the guitarist knows his way around an extended jam, and the jam band fans in the crowd clearly worship him.

Next Matis hits us with "Ancient Lullaby," a song from the new album. Though Youth, just released today, is the first album to feature the song, it's immediately clear that he's been playing "Ancient Lullaby" for years. Those who've seen many Matis shows immediately recognize the song they've always referred to as "Mist Rising." In this and his next song, "Jerusalem," the crowd can't help but dance to the mellow, but infectious grooves. I scan the crowd to see the reaction of the fans to the subject matter. In a private box at the top of the house, I spot his Crown Heights 'family' singing along, looking blissed out. And in the crowd at large, it's easy to spot the more secular Jews, for whom the refrain of "Jerusalem, if I forget you…" seems to strike a chord, having grown up most of their lives with the familiar phrase, "Next year in Jerusalem," on the lips of the older generations. But when he bites the familiar '80s refrain, "Ain't no one gonna break my stride, ain't no one gonna hold me down," everyone in the crowd is on familiar footing, singing along. Matis stands on a speaker cab and dances along, bopping up and down as the band kicks it up a notch on the jam.

The crowd knows every word of "Chop Em Down," going wild when Matis launches into the scat, "…ba de yigge yiggewoyo..." He rides that scat straight into the uncharacteristically heavy title song, "Youth." This is the only song in which he addresses his fans with direct advice, telling us to focus and mobilize. It's the closest he ever comes to preaching in a night marked by messages of praise. The song is one of the most dynamic of the show, veering from the rhythmic drone of the rolling drum line, to a markedly dreamy chorus, and finally to the heavily flanged, screaming guitar solo, as Matis pogos, jumping as high as he can.

Againsta red, glowing smoke haze, standing out like a messianic visionin black and white, he addresses the crowd, "Put out the flame in NYC, put out the flame in South America. Put out the flame in Africa, too. In Europe. From Israel to Hong Kong. From Poland to Russia, too." He's talking about unity and responsibility. But when he launches into "Aish Tamid," with the lines "Aish Tamid eternally, fires burn continuously, wondering where you been, won't you come on home to me," he may just as easily be talking about the Diaspora. But it's a universal message, as evidenced by the young black man next to me, holding his cell phone up for someone to listen along on the other end, dancing all the while.

Between songs, people spontaneously break out in random refrains of "Ye be de be doy yo," singing here and there as if the songs are never really over. Instead, the vibe from one flows into the next like a river of groove. When Matis launches into "Avinu Malkenu," I'm told by a rapturous fan that, "Phish plays this all the time in the middle of Mike's "Weekapaug Groove." [Matisyahu] never does this." I spot the Phish fans in the crowd singing along.

To thunderous cheers from just the first guitar notes, Matis breaks into the vocalese that begins "King Without a Crown." Everyone in the balcony is on their feet - even the older Hasidic folks in the box. Everyone sings along with this, his big radio hit, trying to keep up with his crazy-fast flow, finally resorting to shouting out the key words. The black hat has come off and he's down to just a yarmulke, as he spins and spins in place in a traditional dance, reminiscent of whirling dirvishes and Eastern European folk dances. I find it interesting that he chooses to play his most popular radio hit smack dab in the middle of his show - not the opener, not the closer, not the encore - smack dab in the middle.

Following this barn-burner, it's clear we're in for something big when all but Matis exit the stage. With the sound of a bass guitar spilling from his lips, he launches into a jaw-dropping beat box. Apparently last night's crowd missed out on this little treat. Far better than what was captured on Live at Stubbs, I'm awed. It sounds as though he's got a backing track behind him where there is none, a super sped-up drum machine and a DJ scratching where there's no one. He has only a touch of reverb and delay to fatten up the sound. Incredible.

The set isn't this transporting again until "Fire of Heaven/Altar of Earth." One of the highlights in a night full of bright moments, Matis rocks the crowd with his freestyling, his hands flying for punctuation, motioning like a rapper as he flows. Following his freestyle with a call and response of "oy ya-yo," it's not the only time in the course of the night that he gets the largely non-Jewish crowd going with quasi Yiddish vocalizations. I'm struck again during "Warrior" by the fact that these are the parts of his songs that everyone remembers and sings along with, note for note, be they Yiddish, Hebrew or Jamaican Patois.

"How y'all feelin?" he asks, and I realize that this is the first time he's spoken to us all night. Never coming across as reserved or withdrawn, Matisyahu has instead communicated with us through his groove and the message in his lyrics. As the jam roils again, Matis climbs up a lighting rig for a bird's eye view of the crowd from a tall bank of speaker cabs. He gets everyone clapping along, and sits back to enjoy his band. The drummer takes a lengthy drum solo, which perfectly highlights his abilities - particularly his deft, light hand on the high hat, his knack for maintaining difficult time signatures, and his rapid machine gun fire kick drum (I'm told it's not a double bass!). He goes from understated and intricate to full-on Neil Peart, showing his chops and getting his props. Even though his solo is clearly a break for the rest of the band to have a rest, they never actually leave the stage. It's as if they can't bear to miss it.

For the encore, Matis blows the crowd away by pulling out the rarity, "Spark Seekers," only available on a limited edition remix disc, Youth Dub. It's a real gut-busting, bassy jam. Again atop the speaker cabs totally jamming out, Matis comes in only to sing the hook, and dances while his band gets down.

They end the night with "Close My Eyes," featuring guest guitarist Yossi Piamenta. A legendary Israeli musician who has worked with the likes of Stan Getz during the course of his 25+ year career, he lends an Arabic sound to the song with his Sephardic influences. During his solo, a young man in Hasidic garb bursts onstage and boogies his butt off in a spontaneous freak-out of celebration. Matis is loving it, and joins for a traditional dance in a circle, their hands clasped, prayer shawls flying. It's an odd, but totally endearing sight that ends the night on an even more buoyant note.

Before exiting the stage, Matisyahu extends the mic out over the heads of the crowd, amplifying their chorus of screams, and motions up to the ceiling, indicating that the praise goes not to himself, but to the glory of God. The simple gesture sums it up perfectly.

-Ames Friedman

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Summer Concerts Poll: Your Most Embarrassing Concert Memory!

Yes, that's right! It's time to share your most cringe-inducing concert moments. You know, the ones that make you want to hang your head in shame, change your name, admit you don't got game. We bet you can beat the pants off our stories. Speaking of, that reminds me of this one outdoor show...

One-up us with the worst:
Tell your tales: You'll feel so much better, we promise.
You voted on these choices:
--Mom picked me up in a mini van
--Got caught using the wrong bathroom
--Requested "Free Bird"
--Showed up on the wrong night
--Wore a white t-shirt to an outdoor show... it rained
--I was invited to sing on stage & forgot the words
--Set my hair on fire holding up a lighter in tribute
--Flashed the world crowd-surfing in a skirt
--Um, dude, where's the car?
But we like your stories even better:
Read more tales of horror: Wow, it really could have been worse.
You're never just a number to us:
Vote in this week's poll: Your opinion counts!