Glory Gigs: Matisyahu (2006)


“Hebrew, what’s crackin?” (Ok that works better with an NZ accent I guess)

It’s that time again..

The Year Was 2006…

At that stage I was already well on my way to becoming what I consider a festival ‘veteran’. I’d been to practically every Big Day Out, had been to Homebake, Livid and more – but there was still one major Australian festival I hadn’t ticked off the list – Splendour In the Grass.

Getting your mates together for a public holiday of mischief in Sydney for the BDO is no real problem at all, but it was much more difficult to organise people for an hours-long drive up the coast to enjoy a 2 day festival and then drive all the way back.

Still, I managed to find 2, and myself, Luke and Dean set off on our grand northward adventure.

While we were excited for the festival, we weren’t too familiar with a large amount of the bands. Sure there were some I knew and wanted to see, including DJ Shadow, The Presets, The Grates and SFK, as well as a whole bunch I was familiar with and didn’t want to see (Paul Mac, Snow Patrol, The Vines) – but there was also a largely unknown contingent as well.

On the way up the coast we listened to Triple J – the official radio network of the festival – who were doing a lot of promo in the lead-up. A song came on, called ‘King Without A Crown’.

Naturally we were all pretty baked on the drive up, and some tight, up-tempo reggae got us excited. The Jamaican sound resonated and we waited for the radio to tell us who it was.

It was in fact Matisyahu – and even better – he was playing the very Splendour we were driving to! We immediately added him to our rather sparse list of acts to see. Little did I know how magnificent a decision that would end up being.

Saturday flew by as we familiarised ourselves with the MASSIVE festival site, the completely different festival atmosphere, the absolutely insane amounts of mud (which we would learn were a consistent feature of every year) and the general ‘wonderland’-like feel to the place.

A good first day closed with DJ Shadow, and us absolutely munted, but we somehow survived and I don’t think it had even set in yet that we had another day in front of us. This was the first two-day festival any of us had done and you quickly learn about the peaks and troughs of energy flow in a situation like this compared to the one-day blotto-fest most people embrace for the smaller festivals.

We awoke on Sunday unsure of what to expect – but what we found was surprisingly pleasant. No one goes hard on a Sunday morning, and those that went too hard the day before were in far too much of a recovery state to even consider being rowdy. The feel was immensely more chilled. Though we arrived later in the day there was still plenty of time before Matisyahu’s 4 o’clock kick-off.

When you’re that age (I was 21) there’s a good chance that your music festival attendance coincides with the ingestion of narcotic substances. Ours most certainly did, and about half an hour before he took the stage I decided to indulge.

Ecstacy is one of those drugs that, as far as I’m concerned, is a bit hit and miss – but what happened to me that day was more like a hit and BLISS.

The first thing that struck us about Matisyahu, having not seen him once up until this point, was that instead of being some six-foot tall big Jamaican bloke with dreadlocks – the man is actually a normal height, white, bearded hassidic Jew.

There’s no debating that Matisyahu’s lyrics cover some overtly religious and spiritual tones from a Judaic perspective – but that doesn’t mean he’s trying to convert you or push forward some conspiracy-laden Zionist agenda. What it does provide the neutral with is a feeling of bliss. So much reggae is about going out and fuck the law and such, and I understand where that comes from, but Matis didn’t waste his time in such negativity (and still doesn’t).

His music is about joy, love, light and warmth. Coming up on a good dose of ecstasy is more similar than you will ever know if you’ve ever taken it – and what followed for me was one of the most blissful hours of live music I’ve ever experienced (outside of Rammstein 2011 – but that’s another story).

The number of artists who’ve absolutely enchanted me from my first encounter with them is few. Queen, Rammstein and Oasis all changed my life in some way or another – but they’d all done their hard work by the end of my teens. I can’t say I’ve been too enthralled by any bands since then – except Matisyahu.

His band, the Dub Trio, are immensely talented and give a feeling of having jammed together for a long time. The breakdowns and constant tempo, the engagement with the crowd, the completely laid back atmosphere of the audience, the euphoria of coming up – and then there’s the bliss that the man himself and his music exudes. I didn’t want it to end.

Sure, we had the Presets to entertain us when it actually did, but now, 8 years later, this is still one of the most distinct festival sets I can ever remember – and you know what? I barely even looked at the stage. For most of the set I had my eyes closed or staring off to the distance, doing that dance everyone does when listening to reggae, shifting the weight and balance from side to side, bobbing along. So many bands rely on the visual element during their live performance, or have this insistent ‘look at what I’m doing’ air to them – but not Matisyahu.

Was it because of the drugs? I don’t necessarily think so. I think they, much like sprinkles on ice cream, just made a sweet thing even sweeter.

The festival still had time to run, and we closed the day with another almost-as-memorable performance – Brian Wilson and his incredible band playing over an hour’s worth of Beach Boys songs with great harmonies and orchestration and EVERYONE in the tent, young and old, absolutely fucking loving it.

After the festival I went and bought Matisyahu’s CD. I have seen him 3 times since then. I’ve followed him through a career that has already taken so many twists and turns – but each live show has been joyful. Much like that festival was.

I can’t remember the set specifically, although I’m quite certain he played all of these songs (even if they’re in the wrong order).

Splendour 2006 was easily the best one I went to, and there are a multitude of reasons for that – perhaps the most prominent of which is Matisyahu.

So if you’re ever lamenting the negativity of modern musicians, you want to embrace reggae or, hell, if you just smoke a lot of weed – go and listen to Matisyahu – particularly Youth and Live at Stubbs Vol. 1 – and you’ll understand what I went through that cold day in 2006.

Matisyahu Setlist – Splendour In The Grass
Belongil Fields, July 23, 2006

Sea to Sea
Chop ‘Em Down
Got No Water
King Without A Crown
Close My Eyes


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