Matisyahu thrills in Jerusalem, where both rapper and crowd hanker for good ol’ days

Singer and beatboxer leans heavily on band and dedicated audience for night of soulful music, joined on stage by his yeshiva student son

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Matisyahu in the first of two Israel performances on April 2, 2024, in Jerusalem (Daniel Laufer)
Matisyahu in the first of two Israel performances on April 2, 2024, in Jerusalem (Daniel Laufer)

As Jewish rapper and beatboxer Matisyahu got onstage Tuesday night at Zappa Jerusalem for the first of two shows in Israel, he opened his arms in greeting, smiling widely at the crowd featuring fans of every stripe.

“Jerusalem, how we doing?” asked Matisyahu. He was following his son, Laivy Miller, who is living in Jerusalem this year and studying at a yeshiva, and who opened the show.

The father and son ended Miller’s set of three songs together with a niggun, a wordless spiritual tune, before Miller and his band left the stage for Matisyahu’s crew.

“Let’s just get it going!” called Matisyahu to the standing-room-only crowd.

The audience roared in response. The room was full of Matisyahu superfans, among them men with beards and sidelocks and women with their hair covered by wigs and scarves, many from Jerusalem’s English-speaking community.

With that, Matthew Paul Miller, who began using the name Matisyahu in his early 20s when he became more religious, moved into his hit song “Jerusalem.”

Matisyahu’s son, Laivy Miller and band, opening for the Jewish rapper in Jerusalem on April 2, 2024 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“I came to Jerusalem at 16, it changed my life forever,” he told the crowd.

Saxophonist Daniel Zamir moved into a klezmer solo at the end of “Jerusalem,” his tzitzit hanging out over his jeans, his embroidered velvet kippah firmly on his head, as Matisyahu beatboxed along.

“It’s so good to be here!” said Matisyahu.

As with every song in the very relaxed two-hour set, Matisyahu leaned heavily on his band, which included Zamir on saxophone, Aaron Dugan on guitar, Lior Ozeri on bass, Daniel Dor on drums and Hod Moshonov on keyboards.

The audience responded with patience and appreciation for Matisyahu, who’s experiencing both antisemitism at recent shows in the US and the pain, sorrow and trepidation widespread in Israel.

His band adjusted and changed pace as Matisyahu appeared to be less than steady on his feet at times, always picking up the tune, sound and words when the singer didn’t.

He didn’t speak much throughout the 90-minute set, but he thanked all those who have served recently, saying, “I bet there’s a lot of warriors in this room tonight, thank you for searching for our hostages.”

He moved in and out of his familiar playlist, adding bits and pieces of prayers and Hebrew sayings. He asked permission from the crowd to sing “Ascent,” a  new song released last week with video from Israeli sites the singer visited in January, including southern kibbutz communities destroyed by Hamas terrorists on October 7 and the Supernova desert rave.

Matisyahu (right) holds out microphone to Jerusalem fans on April 2, 2024 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

After about an hour, Matisyahu and the band left the stage, and the crowd, more than ready to hear “One Day,” his 2009 hit, began singing it themselves, and then it was picked up by Zamir and his saxophone.

Matisyahu eventually joined in but he didn’t belt it out. Instead, everyone sang, together, words that resonated heavily:

All my life, I’ve been waitin’ for
I’ve been prayin’ for, for the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There’ll be no more wars, and our children will play

Matisyahu followed with another encore, his 2005 single “King Without a Crown” which was a Top 40 hit in the United States. He ended with a jam and some freestyling, a trance and some more beatboxing, before closing out this first of two shows in Israel.

Matisyahu will perform Wednesday night at Zappa Ganei Yehoshua in Tel Aviv with special guests Omri Glikman and Jimbo J.

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