It is fair to say that Matisyahu is the world's premier Hasidic reggae artist. Admittedly, he doesn't have a lot of competition for that title, but the Brooklynite is no pretender.
Blending traditional Jamaican rhythm in the style of Barrington Levy with hip-hop beatboxing, a fluent falsetto and the occasional rocky number, he appears to be using his current tour to gain a broader fan base than his vast Jewish following. Turning up at the Borderline in jeans, brown leather jacket and yellow hoodie, his look was a mile away from the traditional Lubavitch-wear of long black coat and black hat he wore when first making his name in 2004.
Announcing that this would be his first ever acoustic set, and beautifully accompanied by guitarist Aaron Dugan, Matis began with "So Hi So Lo", a track from his forthcoming third album, Light. Definitely on the hip-hop side of his oeuvre, it revealed a man with natural, insistent, driving flow and a nice line in beatboxing.
Following was a real crowd-pleaser, "Jerusalem", from his 2006 album, Youth, whose lyrics about persecution and, more to the point, overcoming it, are typical of the singer's line in inspirational verse.
Matisyahu pressed on with the quick scatting of "Thunder" before coming to the set's undoubted highlight, "One Day". The theme song for the 2010 Winter Olympics, it had a bit of everything – reggae, beatboxing, dubstep – and also had his heavily bearded fellow Hassids bobbing their heads. What with the evening only consisting of an acoustic set, the up-tempo numbers worked far better than slower songs, but the evening was rounded off with a wonderful rendition of the master Bob Marley's "Running Away" that fed into a 10-minute jam,
Matisyahu was in this segment at his most compelling, spitting out lyrics in perfect harmony with guitarist Aaron Dugan's choppy reggae chords.