Matisyahu's Tuesday night show should have been a great joy, first of all because of the location. Ordinarily, the conditions at Zappa are nothing to get excited about, but just one day after Bob Dylan's performance in the cursed expanses of the Ramat Gan Stadium, a show in a small, crowded club sounds like a great idea.
And even more so in the case of Matisyahu, who gave a mediocre show at the huge Hangar 11 when he was here at the height of his fame a few years ago. Now that the novelty of a Hasidic rapper has quieted down (and justifiably so ), he has returned to smaller venues that are supposed to showcase his strong suits.
Matisyahu was so close to the audience at this performance that with just a little effort I could have tugged on his tzitzit. But nonetheless, despite the clubby intimacy, it was not a good show. It wasn't bad either. Just mediocre: nothing to write your rabbi about.
That afternoon Matisyahu was a guest on Radio 88 FM. He spoke in whispers and said that his voice was a bit worn. You could feel this during the show. His songs and rapping were as anemic as usual. On a few occasions he managed to turn the problem with his vocal cords into an advantage and sound fragile and floating, but in general he sounded rather parve.
He also didn't look as though he was making much effort to have the show take off.
Matisyahu appeared with his regular band, Dub Trio, and they too failed to save the day. It was possible, with just a little effort, to enjoy the polished nature of the music (the Dub Trio, as may be understood from its name, takes Matisyahu's songs to the regions of echoing bass ), but the three musicians were revealed to have limited imaginations.
A year ago Matisyahu appeared at Barby with the same group; the show built up momentum slowly but it did heat up and even reached boiling point during a nearly hour-long encore. That didn't happen yesterday, and the fact that the encore lasted only 15 minutes shows perhaps that Matisyahu knows it. Tonight he will appear in Safra Square in Jerusalem for a sold-out show along with Hadag Nahash. It's hard to believe that he'll maintain such cool aloofness there. When he sings "Jerusalem" facing a large group of fans, you can bet the square will burn.