Thursday, March 23, 2006

Balkan Beat Box & Matisyahu

You may be disappointed to learn that I had never tried to scalp tickets to a show before. I guess I am one of those prim people who works their ass off to get tickets ahead, and if they haven't got 'em, doesn't go. But no more. I am a new person.

I had planned my whole trip to Asheville because I wanted to see Balkan Beat Box and Matisyahu. Especially Balkan Beat Box. But then I dragged my feet buying tickets, not realizing what a phenom Matisyahu had become, and the tickets sold out.

But given how much of my recent life has had a Balkan Beat Box soundtrack, I couldn't let the prospect go. So I convinced the friend I was staying with to come along and we stood in the sad little line hoping to get any extra tickets that came about. Meanwhile I tried to work the line, but mostly I got heckled by punk-ass kids who had their tickets and weren't parting with them. About this moment I noticed that all the guys trying to scalp tickets were, well, guys.


So I went back to the line, but I realized what I had that none of those punk-ass guys had, that I could use to score a ticket. Yep, you guessed: a regularly paying job. I could offer more than they would, and fuck it, what is money for?

45 minutes of standing in line later, we had scored two tickets and were inside.

Balkan Beat Box did not disappoint. They did not bring as big an ensemble as Storsveit Nix Noltes did, but they had a couple of sax players along with a raucus guitarist, and the two main guys, one wearing and playing a drum and rapping, and the other doing percussion and whatever one does with a laptop to make the pre-recorded sounds come out.

The energy was enthralling, and even the (largely punk-ass) kids who had never heard of them got into the rhythms and the dancing. how can you resist, really?

And then like all opening acts--well, really only the good ones--it was over all too soon. For me, that 50 minutes or whatever was well worth the price of admission.

What I had not bargained on was what it would be like to witness (and I choose that word deliberately) a Matisyahu show. I knew that he performed highly spiritual reggae music, and that he brought to his music the energy of his faith along with his long interest in beat box and reggae music. OK. And his studio record is pretty interesting--absolutely compelling (although I am not the biggest fan of reggae or always of religiously infused music) but now that I have seen the show, I see the record gives absolutely no flavor of the intensity of his live show.

Because there is something surprising, maybe even if you're not in North Carolina, about seeing a traditionally dressed Hasid singing reggae. And then giving a brilliant spontaneous skill sample of his beat boxing, on his own and then in dialogue with his guitarist. I confess: I am a devoted fan of hybridized music, and this is no exception, but even that cannot account for the power of the show.

That power came from these amazing--seemingly fleeting, seemingly eternal--when he would launch into these glorious bursts of song, a desperately rising burst or lyricism amidst the otherwise fairly regular structure of the music. His voice had that perfect clarity that comes with the higher registers of male singing, carrying a real beauty and purity that you just don't find elsewhere in the vocal range of either gender. So I found myself standing there, dumbfounded, enthralled, not even wanting to dance or yell or do anything that might distract me from that perfect beauty.

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