Mud Island Amphitheatre
July 14, 2007
Words and photos by Josh Mintz / photosbyjosh.com
Famed promoter Bill Graham once booked Miles Davis to open for the Grateful Dead, because he "wanted to introduce Dead fans to a different kind of music." He took joy in juxtaposing different genres on one bill, booking artists that really had no business playing in the same building on the same night.
Some nights you’d have Black Sabbath playing after Yes, or Rashaan Roland Kirk opening for Jefferson Airplane, or maybe the Buddy Rich Orchestra warming up the crowd for Ten Years After. Today, these pairings may not sound as off-the-wall, but in an era of more limited musical choice, Graham expanded the musical palates of many people that bought concert tickets from him.
Today, getting from Miles to the Dead doesn’t take as many steps as it did back in the 60s and 70s, when you really just had rock, jazz, blues, and country. There was no rap or techno. Back then, critics didn’t break the "jazz" genre up into acid jazz, cool jazz, or fusion. People may have been playing different styles, but it wasn’t until later that writers and audiophiles decided to start labeling every microcosm of music.
The triple bill of Particle, Matisyahu, and 311 would have seemed off the wall four decades ago. Even today, it’s not often that you buy concert tickets to a show that features an electronica act out of Los Angeles and a Hasidic Jew who fronts a reggae/rap group. In this case, though, the headliner takes a little out of both openers, adds in some punk rock and funk, and mixes it all together to create something entirely different, yet ties it all together at the same time.
Particle opened the show, to an almost packed venue, most fans unfamiliar with the band. Walking into Mud Island Amphitheatre, 311 fans kept asking, "who’s this Particle band?" coming out of the mouths of plenty. However, by the time they finished their short yet sweet set, they had undoubtedly made a few new fans.
Despite the disadvantage of being the warm-up act for the warm-up act for 311, a band beloved in Memphis, Particle played their cards right. Instead of noodling their way through two songs during their 30 minute set in front of thousands who weren’t familiar with their style, they condensed their songs. They made sure to include "Cheap Novelty Hats" and "Control/Escape" – songs with vocals that were a little more palatable for rookies.
"The American Dream" was a downright dirty rocker, and the audience ate up their cover of Radiohead’s "Creep" and the standard-for-a-Particle show "Axel F," a novelty to those who haven’t seen them before. Their set closed with a great "Sun Mar 11," driven by Darren Pujalet’s pounding drums. The tension and release build-up was immense, a great way to end a strong set. As always, the allstar of the Particle show was Steve Molitz, a veritable whirlwind of motion and sound.
Matthew Miller created an interesting paradox when he morphed into Matisyahu – an ultra-orthodox Jew performing a very un-ultra-orthodox art form. He’s had to adjust his stage persona to appease the Hasidisc higher-ups, no longer being able to stage-dive because he’s shomer n’gia – he can’t touch a woman who’s not his wife before he’s married. He certainly has plenty of naysayers, who think his religious devotion is just a schtick.
While some may doubt his faith, what can’t be doubted is his skill. He kicked his set off with "Sea to Sea," and had the crowd around his finger from the start, as he belted out rapid-fire lyrics in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. His stage presence is commanding, essential for an MC.
For an hour, Matisyahu spit out lyrics while his stellar band cranked away behind him. Touring with a bulked up rhythm section – a bass player, a keyboard player, a drummer, and a percussionist – his band has a full sound that really punches behind his vocal abilities. "Chop ‘Em Down" was probably the highlight of the set, and he ceded the stage to guitarist Aaron Dugan, who showed his own formidable skill on his instrument. However, even then, the spotlight managed to stay on Matisyahu, who was perched on top of a speaker stack, taking in the whole scene.
After the customary "Beat Box", a solid "Jerusalem," and the fan-favorite "King Without a Crown," the unlikely Jewish reggae artist said goodnight, and the stage was set for the main event. Matisyahu found religion several years ago, and undoubtedly some concert goers found a new one themselves during his set, in the form of an up-and-coming star.
[Editor’s note: photography wasn’t allowed during Matisyahu’s set, and I had to leave before 311’s set due to a prior committment – so this is as far as the review goes]
All photos by Josh Mintz / photosbyjosh.com