Helen Zhao

The Dirty Heads / Matisyahu @ Humphrey’s – 09/19/2012

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FILE PHOTO: The Dirty Heads perform at the Hollywood Palladium on September 18, 2012 (PHOTO © Paul A. Hebert / www.PaulHebertPhoto.com)

The Dirty Heads and Matisyahu may lay claim to the same core genre of music—reggae—and share a stage from time to time as they did at Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay in San Diego on September 19, but as far as I can tell, the similarities end there.

With the first day of fall three days away, and the sun setting just a tad earlier behind a harbor lined with boats, The Dirty Heads spend the next couple hours on stage fanning summer’s smoldering embers—No, school hasn’t started yet. Or in our land of eternal sunshine, will it ever?

These Huntington Beach natives aren’t leaving their “cabin by the sea” anytime soon—that tropical dwelling detailed in the song “Cabin by the Sea.” They invite you to step out of reality and into their postcard, an enticing proposition as lead singer Jarod Watson describes what day to day life might consist of.

“And we’ll sing/ Just as loud as we please/ And we will be/ Forever so free…”

The song is a throwback to a simpler time when people built fires with sticks and flint and communicated by throwing bottles out to sea. It’s a different rhythm of life, a rejection of the hectic pace endured by city dwellers, as lamented in “Spread Way Too Thin.”

That rhythm manifests in the body language of the crowd. Heads bop up and down and bodies sway in a groovy, rhythmic motion—it’s like swimming through some sort of warm, thick emulsion—one sustained by a steadily strumming guitar, shaking maracas and tambourines, and the beating of bongo-like drums.

There’s a sense of forever young that pervades the music, a denial of passing time and hence the responsibilities and deadlines that inevitably come with it. It’s a casting off of social expectations, an attitude of “I do whatever I want,” as expressed in their biggest hit, “Lay Me Down,” a celebration of a life like the pompous outlaws, Bonnie and Clyde, who are transplanted from the 1930’s to a contemporary beach town.

“Best of Us,” describes the hypothetical ideal woman, someone who conforms to the lifestyle of the stereotypical frat boy.

“She takes my shoes off when I pass out in the morning/ Dead asleep from a night out with the boys/ If she came with us I’d have to send a warning:/ She can drink with the best of us/ She can smoke and she can drink as much as I can/ She made me food and rolled a joint when I broke my hand.”

At times, the music seems to turn around and make fun of the attitudes it ascribes to—occasionally they’re just a little too ridiculous.

Besides, those golden shorelines may not be all that they’re cracked out for. There are sharks and tsunamis. Not to mention—what would you eat all the time?

Matisyahu proves to us that reality can be just as good, if not better. Instead of rhythms steeped in calm waters, his music surges forward like a tidal wave, not discounting the ensuing wreckage and chaos.

His opening song, “Crossroads,” takes us to a place where momentous decisions are made along a journey many envision toward the top in an increasingly competitive and cutthroat world.

“To descend these city streets late at night/ I’ve been searching for my bite/ They say I inspired, but I’m still looking for my fire/ These lies have got me tired/ I’m free falling, I’m done stalling/ I’m done crawling up this mountain top/ I won’t stop till I manifest my crop.”

That internal struggle that brews beneath an outward show of strength manifests in the sinews of his sound—a more electrifying, ragged, and edgier strain of reggae.

We may be tough on the outside, but inside, we’re all made of the same stuff, as heard in “Fight Like a Warrior.”

“Some days people don’t see you/ You feel like you’re in the way/ Today you feel, as if everyone hates/ Pointing their fingers, looking at your mistakes…”

It’s okay to feel these things. He acknowledges that everyone does from time to time—and you better own it. Being flawed and weak and being strong aren’t mutually exclusive. They’re part of the same package deal.

In the music, you’re soldered to the rawness of your inner core. A fire ignites in a crowd amped and rejuvenated off his lyrics and sounds.

It’s therapy for stressed out 21st century souls. No wonder countless individuals go onstage to hug him after the last song plays out—”One Day”—once used as a soundtrack to an NBC commercial for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, if that tells you anything about its spiritual potency.

“Sometimes in my tears I drown/ But I never let it get me down/ So when negativity surrounds I know someday it’ll all turn around because/ All my life I been waitin’ for I been prayin’ for, for the people to say/ That we don’t want to fight no more/ They’ll be no more wars and our children will play/ One day, one day, one day/”

However, it’s a state of bliss and wholesomeness that comes at a price, as “Sunshine” reckons. We’ve got to get out of Never Never Land where Peter Pan quipped that he never wanted to grow up.

“You’re on your own/ Time to grow and be a man/ Want to fly high like Peter Pan/ No more Never Never Land/ So lose your backpack filled with sand.”

It’s time to leave the beach. Because there, you’re stuck. But if you stick out the realities of the real world, the reward is so much greater.

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