For Love of the Music: A Review of Matisyahu’s Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III

Netanel Miles-Yépez

Ten years after the release of his breakthrough album, Live at Stubb’s (which reached #1 on the Billboard Reggae Albums Chart), Matisyahu has again returned to the well-known Texas venue to record Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III. The result is a picture of artistic evolution, filled with the kind of texture a performer only acquires after years on the road, gathering myriad life-experiences and exploring new musical influences.

From 2005 to 2015, Matisyahu’s artistic and personal transformation has been nothing less than epic. Achieving early success as a hasidic reggae superstar, he later went on to craft a broader, multi-influence, cross‐genre musical style that broke all the rules, bringing him greater success and an equal amount of criticism from early fans. Having survived the backlash from the die-hard reggae set, as well as those who saw him only as a bearded Jewish icon, Matisyahu released Akeda (Uh-kay-duh) in 2014, his most creative, self-reflective and purely conceived album to date.

Now, with Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III, Matisyahu reveals yet another side to his musical personality. Whereas the original Live at Stubb’s (2005) produced a classic of live performance, and Live at Stubb’s II (2011) the super-charged concert experience at it’s best, Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III (2015) delivers the no additives beauty of a stripped-back sit-down show in which the musicians play just for the love of the music.

Recorded at the legendary Stubb’s in Austin, Texas, on March 7th, 2015 (just over ten years after the original February 19th, 2005 performance, with supplementary tracks recorded on March 4th, 2015 at New York City’s Winery), Matisyahu reunited with three friends from his days at The New School in New York and the early years—guitarist Aaron Dugan (who performed on the original Live at Stubb’s album); keyboardist, Rob Marscher; and percussionist, Tim Keiper.

Like a rare bootleg recording of Bob Dylan singing in a smoke-filled club in the early 60s, Matisyahu’s performance in Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III has the simple sound and appeal of a great poet-musician on open mic night. Together with Dugan, Marscher and Keiper, Matisyahu soaks in the music and allows it to take its own twists and turns, which he often accompanies with his signature beat-boxing. Opening with an edgy, tone-setting, guitar-dominated performance of “Searchin,” Matisyahu performs six songs from his earlier albums—Shake Off the Dust…Arise (2004) to Spark Seeker (2012). Notable on the album are newly interpreted versions of early songs like, “Lord Raise Me Up” (Live at Stubb’s), “Warrior,” and “King Without a Crown” (Shake Off the Dust…Arise and Live at Stubb’s), as well as a cover of Bob Marley’s “Running Away,” into which he blends his own, “Dispatch the Troops” (Youth).

As part of the 10th anniversary of Live at Stubb’s, Matisyahu and his band will be out on the road performing a series of intimate sit-down shows highlighting the songs on Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III.


* Netanel Miles-Yépez is a poet, artist, and Sufi spiritual teacher residing in Boulder, Colorado.