I'm a believer

Matisyahu crowns part two of the 2006 Best Music Poll Party.
By Simon W. Vozick-Levinson  |  May 26, 2006


MATISYAHU: The world's premier Hasidic Jewish reggae artist.

Thousands crowded the Bank of America Pavilion last night to catch a triple bill of strange bedfellows. It was the second show celebrating this year’s Phoenix/FNX Best Music Poll, and a rare opportunity to rub shoulders all at once with fans of Boston psych-poppers Apollo Sunshine, angst-rap icons Atmosphere, and Matisyahu, the world’s premier Hasidic Jewish reggae artist. There’s not much meat in the middle of that Venn diagram, but the youngish throng mingled freely by the harborside venue’s corporate-sponsor booths as dusk fell, seemingly unaware that musical worlds were colliding.

First up, Apollo Sunshine showed why voters made them 2006’s Best Local Act with a goofy, frenetic set. Bassist Jesse Gallagher, looking sharp in a day-glo yellow suit, got things started by tossing a basketball into the audience. He and guitarist Sam Cohen drwe howling feedback from their amps and plucked tiny solos on ukuleles with equal ease, diving nonchalantly from gentle country ballads into face-melting power solos. Many in the half-full tent seemed pleasantly bewildered.

The Minneapolis-based indie-rap duo Atmosphere weren’t featured in this year’s poll results, but their fans are die-hards, and it’s a rare set these days where Slug and Ant aren’t headlining. “I just talked to Atmosphere, can you believe it, Sky?” one elated girl squealed into her cell-phone after getting a pre-show autograph. All the same, Slug wished his supporters weren’t so fond of his “pissed-off stuff.” “Put a smile on the front of your head,” he begged during one song, but it was a losing battle. They just went wilder as his monologues edged further into post-Eminem self-loathing — especially when the DJ’s aggressive beats were supplemented mid-set by a straight-up emo band. “God Loves Ugly” was the first song the full sextet played; one particularly committed shirtless dude already had the phrase tattooed on his back.

The evening’s headliner, Best National Breakthrough Act Matisyahu, was peddling a somewhat different theology. As ways, his pseudo-patois lyrics focused solely on his devout relationship with G-d (with the possible exception of the moment he quoted Diddy’s “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down”), and as always, that was almost beside the point. The fans who lofted their lighters to his band’s rock-infused Jamaican jams flipped when they got to hear Best National Song “King Without A Crown” twice: first a capella, then, from the top, over his backing trio’s slamming riffs. “I believe, I believe,” the largely secular crowd roared along.

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Simon W. Vozick-Levinson: vozick@gmail.com

Related: Stop the world, Best Music Poll 2006, Matisyahu at Harvard, More more >
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