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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014

Wed
Hi: 68
Lo: 63
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Lo: 64
Fri

Lo: 68
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Amazing Matisyahu preaches at The Pabst

When a friend told me that Matisyahu, a Jewish reggae rapper who kicks it Old-Testament style, was performing at The Pabst Theater, I knew I had to check it out.

It's not that Matisyahu is the first to break the Jewish-rap barrier; the Beastie Boys did that two decades ago. But Matisyahu is quite possibly the first to combine dancehall reggae -- a la Eek-A-Mouse or Yellowman  -- with human beatbox, rap and Hebrew prayer.

It would be easy to dismiss Matisyahu as shtick, especially considering the 27-year-old Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn wears a long beard and brimmed hat on stage. Plus, some purist reggae fans are unenthused about a privileged white kid from New York drawing larger crowds than his Jamaican counterparts.

But Matisyahu, love him or hate him, is not gimmick; he's the real deal.

Although he doesn't break new ground musically, Matisyahu has a beautiful voice and a completely unique presence that combines confidence, friendliness and signature stage movement that is both groovy and slightly stiff. Everything about him is incongruent, but it works, and while other show biz Jews like Rob Tannenbaum and Sarah Silverman make a conscious effort to redefine Jews as cool, Matisyahu just is.

During Tuesday night's nearly sold-out performance at The Pabst, fans reached for him -- mostly women -- attracted to his style. (On a side note, I learned at Matisyahu's merchandise table that women's T-shirts were not available due to the same spiritual rules of his religion that prevent him from performing on Friday nights.)

The Pabst crowd was a fascinating mix of average music fans, bearded men with their wives and slews of yarmulke-wearing young boys, a half dozen of whom Matisyahu pulled on stage at the height of the show for a pogo-stick version of "Ring Around the Rosie" and the chance to sing a long while pounding their fists towards the ceiling. It was undoubtedly the most skin-tingling moment of Jewish pride I have ever witnessed.

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