As the crowd swells into Sydney’s Metro Theatre I’m struck by its obvious diversity.
The conservatively dressed Orthodox Jewish men and women file in orderly, buy a round of cokes, and take their seats at the tables in the back.
The dreadlocked, tie-dyed hippies scatter across the dance floor as they light their joints and sway to Snob Scrilla (the opening act). Meanwhile, the trendy, 20-something crowd dressed in skinny jeans and tight shirts sip light beers as they push and squeeze their way to the front of the stage.
So who is this eclectic bunch here to see?
Matisyahu: An Hasidic-Jewish dancehall reggae artist.
The 30 year old New Yorker infuses Jamaican reggae beats and dancehall toasting with religious lyrics praising Moshiach (the Messiah).
Many were quick to label him a cheap gimmick, but the capacity crowd and highly anticipated third studio album, Light, have silenced many critics.
As his band assemble onstage, the excitement in the mosh-pit is palpable. Audience members surge towards the front of the dance-floor, as the seated concert-goers continue nonchalantly sipping their cokes.
The band comprises a heavy-set, long haired, bearded drummer, an electric bass player, and an electric guitar player.
Minutes later, a tall, lanky man bounces across the stage, his long beard flailing behind.
He appears messy and dishevelled in grey pants, a bomber jacket, sunglasses and a red cap decidedly too small for his cranium.
It is a far cry from what many undoubtedly expected from a traditional Orthodox Jew.
You could be mistaken for thinking this was just another scruffy rock-star, were it not for the tzitzits (the fringe of his prayer shawl) dangling underneath his shirt.
All this is of little importance as Matisyahu opens his mouth and flawlessly delivers the song that catapulted him to international fame, ‘King without a Crown’, from his 2006 album, Youth.
The crowd erupts as they sing along, “What’s this feeling? My love will rip a hole in the ceiling. I give myself to you from the essence of my being and I sing to my God, songs of love and healing. I want Moshiach now.”
These religious-themed rhymes that Matisyahu spits – often in a Jamaican accent – are simply one of his talents on show tonight. He delights the audience with lyrical prowess, and showcases impressive beatbox improvisations, lightning fast rapping and alternative dance moves.
Matasyahu, which is the Hebrew version of his name Matthew (Miller), was a troubled teen who dabbled in illegal substances and fell in love with reggae.
Ten years ago he had a religious awakening after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
He now devotes his life to spreading messages of hope, love and understanding through music.
While he condemns the use of drugs, “If you’re trying to stay high, you’re bound to stay low,” he seems un-affected by the permanent cloud of smoke emanating from the stoners in the front row. In fact, he looks stoned himself!
The concert débuted a few songs from the new album (produced by David Kahne), including ‘One Day’ and ‘Light’. Both tracks were less reggae, and more mainstream pop/rock.
In fact, the whole album seems a reflection of Matisyahu’s musical assimilation. It could simply be a case of personal evolution, but it’s a shame either way. It seems the heavy-bass Jamaican rhythms of Matisyahu are numbered.
Nevertheless, if you have the chance to see this truly original artist perform, I promise you, you won’t be disappointed. The unusual fusion of strict religious beliefs with reggae and hip-hop beats may have once seemed like a joke, but his Sydney performance proved Matisyahu is no gimmick.
However, as his set came to an end I felt mildly ripped off. Why didn’t he perform two of his biggest hits, ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Lord raise me up’?
I was disappointed, but as he belted out his new track, ‘One day’, he imparted a message of hope I felt was directed straight at me,
“Sometimes in my tears I drown, but I never let it get me down. So when negativity surrounds I know someday it’ll all turn around.”