Phish’s Baker’s Dozen run is quickly approaching. As is tradition for summer tour, there will be an enormous amount of talent surrounding the entertainment with pre- and post-shows galore. Phish’s thirteen nights at Madison Square Garden will be no different, as Live For Live Music plans to take over New York City with over a dozen shows of our own.
As the shenanigans approach, we’ll be discussing Phish with a number of artists who will be in town performing some of these late-night shows. Last week, we interviewed Craig Brodhead from Turkuaz. In the second installment of our “Phishin’ With” series, Matisyahu discusses his relationship with the band Phish — ahead of his intimate 8/2 performance at The Cutting Room (tickets).
Matisyahu found himself on stage at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival with the de facto leader of improvisational rock-n-roll; Phish’s front man Trey Anastasio back in 2015. Many early fans of Matisyahu remember that moment clearly not because of the songs he played in front of the 80,000 person crowd, but because of his seemingly unfettered confidence (or perhaps naiveté) in helping lead Trey and his band through an improvisational display of beat boxing and lyrical gymnastics during the two songs performed. It may have been unrefined, but Matisyahu’s passion for full band improvisation was laid bare.
In this interview, Matisyahu tells us where his love for Phish began and how it’s since evolved.
Live For Live Music: Tell us about your first Phish concert experience.
Matisyahu: I was 16 at the Centrum in Worcester, Massachusetts. I had been in Israel for the fall semester of my junior year in high school and had a spiritual awakening of sorts as it related to my identity as a Jew. I had come home and was pretty depressed after having such an experience, and then having to return to high school and regular life was pretty brutal. I met my friend Jason from Israel and we drove from his dad’s place near Boston. We took LSD for the first time and got into the show pretty early. What can I say, from the moment they started playing my life was never the same. I experienced music that night in a way that turned my entire world inside out, and knew in the depths of my soul that it is where I live. With Music. Thank You Phish and Tim Leary.
L4LM: How would you describe the music of Phish?
Matisyahu: Similar to the Grateful Dead in that their music spans multiple American genres. Also in the element of Improvisation. They can take you into your darkness, gradually show you a glimmer of light in your soul, allow you to explore and journey through your ups and downs, build you up to a breakthrough, then be completely goofy, and so on. They are masters of Improvisation and creating an atmosphere for people to explore.
L4LM: How many Phish shows have you seen?
Matisyahu: Not really sure, probably only 50 or so.
L4LM: Do you have a favorite show or most memorable experience?
Matisyahu: My first. I also had another show fall 1996 in Charleston, South Carolina where I believe I swear Trey looked at me and smiled and was like, “I’ll see you on stage with me in a few years.” Which happened by the way at Bonaroo in 2005. I sang two song with Trey band on Saturday night. It was cosmic.
L4LM: What are your two favorite Phish songs?
Matisyahu: “Bathtub Gin” and “Tweezer.” Only because I listened to them yesterday. For me, the best Phish song isn’t the song, it’s the improvisation in the song and it can be in any song. It’s that moment when things are really happening and it might happen one night in one song and the next in another.
L4LM: What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever seen at a Phish show?
Matisyahu: Thats tough. I once started a minor riot in a parking lot outside the Omni in Atlanta. It was Halloween 1996 and I lost my shoes in the show and was wandering in an enclosed parking lot when it let out. I started drumming and singing the Rasta Man Chant and it turned into hundreds of people, fire spitters, banging on pipes and walls. A paddy wagon with cops rolled up and then just left like they didn’t know what to do. That was nuts.