Friday, June 5, 2020 -
Print Edition

Matisyahu rocks Boulder

Matisyahu performing for the first time since shaving his trademark beard, at the Boulder Theater.BOULDER — When Matisyahu, the 32-year-old chasidic reggae superstar, appeared onstage for the first time since shaving his trademark beard, no one in the audience at the Boulder Theater seemed surprised.

The news of his shaving had been widely discussed since the star tweeted a photo of himself, along with a brief explanation for his cosmetic and philosophical changes.

Though he was now missing the aesthetic hallmarks of chasidic Jewry, he still wore a yarmulke — a large, black-knitted version — and his tzitzit hung out from under his plain white T-shirt.

He also wore baggy khaki pants that sagged off of his slim, vegan-fed frame, a long black jacket and dark sunglasses.

Without the camouflage of his beard and peyes, his face was noticeably angular, gaunt even. His features looked delicate and feminine under the multicolor stage lighting.

The sold-out crowd didn’t seem to care, roaring with approval as he stood in front of the mike.

Yet some concert-goers expressed concern before the start of the show as to the viability of Matisyahu’s career without his signature look.

“I think it’s the beginning of the end of Matisyahu,” said Donny Basch, who was attending the show with his wife.

Others were more interested to see whether any changes would result from his altered appearance.

“I’m curious to see how his concert today compares to the show in Philly,” said one woman, referring to a show she had attended several years prior that had a mix of modern Orthodox and secular folks in the audience.

“I thought it was a fun show, but mostly due to the mystique of a chasid rapping and doing reggae.”

“I’m very interested in him and what his shift is philosophically,” Deborah Skovrom, a middle-aged woman, said of the singer’s new look and the deeper changes it might signify. “It’s a major shift in how he wants to be perceived.”

Yet she expected no changes in what perhaps matters most to fans — his music. “His music and message are still right on,” Skovrom said.

Calvin Carter spoke even more emphatically in defense of Matisyahu’s choice to shave his beard.

“He’s got the right to do that without people saying he gave up his faith,” Carter said. To Carter, the music is the point — “as long as the brother is spreading good cheer and good music.”

Carter was one of several reggae fans in attendance — guys with long dreads and colorful knit Rasta hats. But many in the crowd, ranging in age from high schoolers to baby boomers, seemed to have stepped off the pages of a J. Crew catalog.

Newly shorn and wearing his Gap-esque clothing, Matis-yahu looked more like his fans than he ever has before. He danced jerkily across the stage. Many in the audience followed suit, yet few reached down to pick up their fallen yarmulkes as the singer did several times throughout the night.

ADDRESSING the audience briefly after a few songs, Matisyahu spoke in unaccented American English without any hint of the patois he adopts when he busts into reggae and dancehall, and none of the “oys” and Ashkenazi pronunciations he sprinkles throughout his songs — especially those that are extra heavy on Jewish and messianic themes. In those brief moments he was simply Matt Miller.

And some people seem to like it that way.

Said one Jewish woman of Matisyahu’s new look: “With the beard he looks like every other chasidic Jew.”

It’s an interesting observation — to Jews, looking like a chasid makes you look like every other Orthodox Jew.

It makes you seem like you’re part of a black-and-white-clad monolith. But on the stage of popular music, the beard — not the neatly shorn scruff favored by Brooklynites but a long, full beard — makes one stand out. Some may even argue that it helped launched Matis-yahu’s career.

He covered many of his most popular songs — “Jerusalem” and the seasonally appropriate “Miracle” — yet the evening’s highlight was the final song, “One Day.” The song had been used as the official anthem of the 2010 Winter Olympics due to its utopian message.

“I’ve seen him several times and this is the best I’ve ever seen him,” said Jonathan Lev, Boulder JCC executive director.

Whether his performance quality had anything to do with his new look is hard to say. In the blog post he penned to accompany the photos, he said, “Sorry folks, all you get is me . . . no alias.”

For the fans who lined up outside the theater, crowded around the stage and sang along with him, that seemed to be more than enough.

Leave a Reply


Dear valued reader,

We are deeply appreciative of the support shown by you during these difficult times — through new subscriptions, continued advertisement or your positive notes and comments.

The Intermountain Jewish News has been working hard to cover the impact of COVID-19 in a relevant and meaningful way.

Like other small businesses and media companies, the IJN is being impacted in an unprecedented way by effects of the coronavirus.

Please subscribe today or purchase a gift subscription — an online gift is social distancing.

As a thank you for your new subscription, we will send you (or your gift recipient) a copy of The Unexpected Road, Rabbi Hillel Goldberg’s collection of stories of inspirational lives encountered as a journalist, scholar and student. Simply enter the coupon code BOOK at the top of the page when you check out.

If you’re already a subscriber, you can also donate to the IJN to support our mission of providing quality and comprehensive journalism to the Colorado Jewish community.