Matisyahu’s Transformative Performance at the Sheridan Opera House
His fashionable black trenchcoat was about the only remnant adorning Matthew Paul Miller that could be traced to his reformed Hasidic Jew garb he once wore onstage. Everything else – facial hair, attire, hair cut, and some flashy Nike kicks – was all typical of your casual hipster. Yet Miller was still booked as his self-identifying artistic nomenclature Matisyahu, which translates to “Gift of God,” and stepped on to The Sheridan Opera House stage with a sly grin and a glazed look in his eye.
A fitting enough persona for the man who had cast aside his religious gimmick for a more pop-friendly appearance earlier this year, Miller’s stellar backing band Dub Trio cued up “Crossroads” as the lead in track for his set. Throughout the tune Miller describes the struggle of self-identification and self-actualization with refined literary dexterity. Whether you cared about the context of the track or not, it got the crowd moving their feet and bobbing their heads. The lighting rig was awesomely bright. The speakers were also very loud. The loudest I had ever heard in the venue, but much like Miller on stage, the crowd seemed to embrace the thumping bass and scorching guitar as they pulsed through the room.
Moving past the ending notes of “Crossroads,” Miller and company continued on the path of the Speak Seeker tracklist with “Sunshine.” The uplifting pop-oriented tune led into yet another new track, “Like a Warrior,” but both had a very deep cutting dub undertone about them. The very fabric of the tunes actually seemed to eroded into a pool of deep chanting vocalizations and seemingly improvised directions. The band was on board for a segue sequence that melded high-energy takes of “Sea to Sea,” “Obstacles” and “Bal shem tov” into a beautifully chaotic streamline.
The end of one track was lost in the introduction of another, but regardless of what structural formula was used, Miller was captivating the room with his overt blissful state of being. A highlight was a subtle fade into a drum and bass section on which Miller showcased his beatboxing skills. He seemed to be enjoying the band’s movements more than anyone else in the room. Odd yet humorous bouncing and foot shuffling across the stage was similar to his movements of the past, and it came across even more authentically without the Hasidic uniform.
For most in the crowd, the complete dearth of any Top 40 material from his Hasidic-era records was a confusing realization. For those who have tracked his career since its onset, the choice was actually a welcome departure, given the new freeform sonic direction that group was pursuing. It may have been the same man up there, but it was a completely different artist. The character who once defined himself through his religion was now transmitting himself through artistic reflection. Miller was not longer Matisyahu; he was the coy rapper who mastered blending live reggae with a positive message and driving dub beat.
The set was short, but it felt like the right length for an taxing spiritual experience. If Miller had upset anyone with his song selections, he kept the encore sequence of “King Without a Crown,” “Warrior,” and “One Day” in his back pocket, just in case. The trio of radio singles riled up the crowd that had previously been entranced, and a mandatory stage drive by Miller capped off a very revealing music experience from the guy who started as MC Truth.
Soulstress Janiva Magness to Get Groovy at the Abbey Theater
The second woman to ever win the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Award, Janiva Magness is a rare gem among the treasure trove of aspiring nu-Blues artists. Her artistic burden of proof also includes accolades such as three-time winner of Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year. Beyond the trophies and positive peer feedback, her sultry and seductive personal tales have taken her all over the country, even landing her in front of military audiences as far away as Iraq and Kuwait. Magness’ bold persona reflected by journeys into harms way to share her craft is a direct reflection of both her heartfelt songwriting and critically acclaimed performances. Whether it’s upbeat funky cuts or slow, deep blues tracks, Magness’ robust vocal display is not to be missed when she stops in Durango for a performance at The Abbey Theater on Saturday.
Janiva Magness with Hello Dollface and Caitlin Cannon & The Artillery at The Abbey Theater, Durango, 10/21, 8pm, $15-20, www.abbeytheater.com
Robby Overfield Takes His Bayou Blues to the Summit
Hailing from the Rock City of Detroit, and now calling Durango his true home, Robby Overfield preaches and personifies the power that music has over the soul. It is with that very aspect of soul that he crafts minimalist tunes sprinkled with just as much Blues and swampy Folk as low tempo Funk and Americana. His vocal chops are of the breed that instantly become comfortably familiar, while also needing moments of welcomed surprise to keep things interesting. Although states away from New Orleans, it’s lines like, “I ain’t go no crystal ball, those tarot cards, I lost them all, the genie is gone on vacation, so no sense in rubbing that lamp, all I’m asking if give me another chance,“ off “Hard to Find” that drive home Overfield’s bayou soul progression on his latest release The Breaks.
Robby Overfield & The Breaks at The Summit, Durango, 10/18, 10pm, www.durangosummit.com
Country Legend Don Williams at Two Rivers Convention Center Grand Junction, CO
Country Music Hall of Fame member and internationally renowned artist Don Williams is rolling his extensive fall tour through Grand Junction next Wednesday. Beyond a career that spans five decades and numerous chart topping songs and records, including his latest And So It Goes, Williams has built a reputation off his signature laid-back tone and timeless songwriting approach. Dubbed “The Gentle Giant” of the genre, Williams’ songs have influenced everyone from Johnny Cash to Eric Clapton, and he continues to build his legacy on recent collaborative efforts with Alison Krauss and Keith Urban. Do not miss this legend in action next week.
Don Williams at Two Rivers Convention Center, Grand Junction, 10/24, 7:30pm, $35-50, www.tworiversconvention.com