The Pier was invited back stage last Saturday night on December 17th to interview Matisyahu’s band Dub Trio at The Ogden Theatre in Denver, CO. What took place backstage includes a great recap with updated photos of Matisyahu’s new look along with a glimpse of what backstage was like prior to Matisyahu’s set.
This was Matisyahu’s only 2nd show since shaving his beard to go with the surprising announcement of “No more Chassidic reggae superstar” that rocked the entire social network when he posted his new photos on Twitter. The story was covered by everyone from TMZ to CNN. Read below as Pier Photographer, Kit Chalberg, details the events of what the environment backstage was like before Matisyahu performed as The Pier was the only press allowed back stage for the event…
As I walked past groups of fans, it was obvious that the new look of Matisyahu was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. I heard kids saying things like, “Is he still Jewish?” and “I have always wondered what he really looked like.” I also knew that the Ogden Theatre would be packed with a diverse crowd of old, young, non-Jewish, Jewish and everyone in between. What I did not know was that the night would be filled with unexpected surprises and an opportunity for a small glimpse into the musical life of one of music’s most unique, and mercurial, stars.
Brian Turk (Pier staff writer) and I made our way through the crowd to the stairs at stage right to wait for a member of Dub Trio—Matisyahu’s world class band. After waiting for a short time, he greeted us at the stairs and provided us with our All-Access passes for the evening—the first surprise of the night.
We made our way down the narrow and steep stairs, into the Ogden’s basement green room. The green room was much nicer than I expected, furnished with several couches, some fresh fruit and an HDTV playing “The Hangover.” Following the usual introductions and exchanges, Brian began to interview drummer Joe Tomino, bassist Stu Brooks and guitarist Dave “DP” Holmes. Dub Trio spoke about their past, present and future as Matisyahu’s backing band and collaborator. Most notably, they did not make mention of Matisyahu’s recent announcement and transformation.
The interview ended with some “thank yous” and some “good lucks.” Given the fact that I had an All-Access pass, not to mention there was no photo pit, I thought I would try my luck at making a request.
I asked Matisyahu’s manager if I could photograph the show from the stage. He looked at me blankly and pulled me aside and said “Yes, but whatever you do—do it discretely. He (Matisyahu) will ask you to leave if you get in the way”. He then handed me a “Manager/Crew Only” laminate and said, “If you have any problems, just show them this”— And THIS was the second surprise of the night.
Brian and I followed the stairs backup to stage-level where we could see the sold out house, puffs of smoke and crew diligently preparing the stage. We stopped in the hallway and leaned-up against the wall. I looked to my left and noticed a curious, typed-written sign posted above the doorway leading upstairs. The sign read, “No One Allowed. No Wife, No Kids, not even Moses.” Because we were not granted access to Matisyahu I was not sure if he was in the building, on his bus or somewhere else. While I cannot be sure, the sign pointed to this being the doorway that led to the private green room occupied by the reborn and newly reclaimed reggae superstar.
I knew show time was near when the backstage intercom rang, and a short time later Dub Trio emerged from the stairway. I looked down at my camera, made a couple of adjustments and then took a couple of shots—one of Dave’s guitar and the other of the set list that sat in an open case in front of me. I returned to my spot against the wall and looked to my right to find Matisyahu towering over all of us in the hallway—the third surprise of the night.
Matisyahu stood there ominously dressed in a long, black trench coat with dark aviator shades—looking part mafia, part banker and notably serious. He stood directly under a white light spotlight, creating an ironic halo effect on his newly bald head. Eyes closed and hands to his side, Matis then bowed his head, slowing rotating his head to the right, then looking straight up at the ceiling, and finally looking towards the floor. I cannot be sure if Matis’ was praying or searching for some inner strength, or something in between, in the moments before he walked out on stage to adoring fans. Speculation aside, it was clear that whatever he was doing was a very personal moment of reflection and peace.
With the advice of Matis’ manager clearly etched in my mind, I held my camera at my waist and began to blindly take photos. I wasn’t able to look at the screen to admire my work. I could only hope that the camera captured the rare opportunity I was witnessing. I was witnessing a behind-the-scenes glimpse of an artist, and man, who made a conscious decision to transform his identity and who had the personal courage to share it with the rest of us—the fourth, and final, surprise of the night.