Since “King Without A Crown” hit the Top 40 chart in 2005 and the world received a formal introduction to his Hasidic rock and reggae explorations, Matisyahu has observed Hanukkah with a handful of shows in and around New York City. This year, he took his Festival of Light on the road, kicking off the celebratory tour in San Francisco before booking it across the country to play every major city on the eastern seaboard for each of Hanukkah’s eight nights. The Festival of Light tour incorporates the simultaneously bombastic and ethereal aplomb that Matisyahu has built his reputation on, but lately he’s been working more stripped-down arrangements into the set list, and he’ll take the unplugged approach to a new level with an acoustic tour and Spark Seeker: The Acoustic EP this January.
Matisyahu performs tomorrow, Dec. 15, at Terminal 5.
“Last night, we did something new–we had a cello player and he’s going to be with me for the tour coming up as well,” he says in between shows earlier this week. “The kids, they all know the Hanukkah songs that I just released, which is cool. The Festival of Light tour is half and half rock show/acoustic set, with 50 percent of the show performed with a full band. My music has a spiritual connection to it, so it’s a cool thing to give people something to do on Hanukkah–my show is a place to go party and have fun and connect.”
What’s the most enjoyable aspect of touring around this time of year?
When I make music, I do it as a celebration–it’s fun, but Hanukkah has this depth to it, and we light the menorah onstage, and that’s beautiful, and then we got the disco ball dreidel, so that’s fun. It’s a combination of spirituality and music and God, but also having a good time while bringing those things together.
Where did the idea for the acoustic tour come from?
Well, the truth is, we did some acoustic shows, and the turnouts were really big. A lot of people come to those shows, so we just decided to do a full run like that. it’s a little bit nicer in that we play in nicer theaters, kind of more stripped down. It allows for different types of people to come; not just the people who would come to a regular rock show at a club, but all the people who want to bring their kids. The style is totally different. It features more of the voice. I’m performing with a cello, and it’s really pretty. There’s a lot of improvisation because I do the beatboxing and all that, but there’s still a big improvisational element like in my rock show. It’s not just that it’s stripped down, it has a certain spirituality to it and it’s a completely different musical experience. As an artist, it’s great, to be able to make my songs and make my music in different modes and different ways.
Are there any songs that have transformed in this new format for you, especially?In particular, with “Crossroads,” the first song on Spark Seeker and the first song I’ve been performing live, we change it–everything just slows down, it’s more drawn out, I’m able to sing more. It still has all the elements of the rock show. I’m still rapping, there’s still reggae and beatboxing and all that; it just comes out in a completely different way.
Do these acoustic sets bring out any traits in yourself as a performer that you haven’t seen before?
There’s much more of a focus on the subtleties of the voice. With the rock show–the electric show, or whatever–there’s a lot of sound, there’s a lot of noise, and I’m dancing. With the acoustic show, there’s really nothing to hide behind. It’s just me, sitting on the stool, and my voice. I can really get into the delivery and the way I’m singing it, the colors and the emotions that I’m using, and know that people are hearing it. They’re not missing it, you know? It’s connecting with them. We’re going to do a short Q and A thing [on the acoustic tour]. With all of the changes and stuff that I’ve been through, people have a lot of questions. I get the opportunity to talk to people as well and tell them a little bit about myself, and I get to joke around with a lot of people. People have a certain perception of who I am and I’m not always that. I feel like the other sides of my personality come out in these shows. With the rock show, I just kind of go out and do what I do. With these shows I’m bringing people into my life and into my musical and emotional life, and people get a sense of who I am as a person.
What’s the one thing you hope people take away from the acoustic tour?
The biggest challenge is people knowing what they’re going to see, that they’re going to see not just a Matisyahu concert but an acoustic concert. Sometimes people come to these shows expecting to dance at a high-energy rock show, but it’s not that. The challenge is trying to get people to meet me dynamically on the energy level I give. I hope that people connect with the music in an emotional way. I hope that when people walk away, they walk away feeling as I would feel when I was leaving a concert when I was a kid, feeling touched, feeling connected. It’s like when you go to a good movie and it gives you that insight into your own life: you have that supercharged clarity in your life. Good art, that’s the purpose of it–to lift you up and take you to a new realm, and allow you to see things about your life and help you make decisions that might need to be made.