live music: MATISYAHU x WILLIAMSBURG MUSIC HALL x 12.21.11

Matisyahu by Joe Russo Photo

Brooklyn, NY December 21, 2011 – I have always wanted to check out what all the hype about Matisyahu was about. I was supposed to shoot one of his shows earlier in the year but never made it. Then recently, he went and cut off his beard and locks…which apparently caused a bit of a stir in the Hasidic community.

I saw that he was performing 3 nights at the Williamsburg Music Hall in Brooklyn and another night at Webster Hall in NYC. I emailed a friend of mine with a connection to the band to secure me a photo pass. I asked for the last night at Webster Hall as the usually have a photo pit. Past experience/shoots at WMH warranted no photo pit…which usually ends up being a headache and a pain in the ass. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get in for the Webster Hall show and had to make due with night 3 at WMH for Matisyahu’s Festival of Lights.

I walked in just before the show started and the place was packed. I guess that was to be expected…it was Chanukah after all. Aside from my usual pre-show research that I do on bands I’ve never shot/seen before, I didn’t really know if I would enjoy this and stay or leave after the first few songs. This venue seems to have no real policies when it comes to photography. There were quite a few “pro” cameras in there. Some new how to use them and others…not so much. A few rigs had flash mounts and were firing away like they were at a kids bday party. And at one point I turned to the security guard next to me and asked him if flash photography was allowed…to which he replied “I guess so. We haven’t been told otherwise”.

Matisyahu by Joe Russo Photo

Matisyahu by Joe Russo Photo

Matisyahu by Joe Russo Photo

Matisyahu by Joe Russo Photo

Matisyahu by Joe Russo Photo

Matisyahu by Joe Russo Photo

Matisyahu by Joe Russo Photo

Matisyahu by Joe Russo Photo

Matisyahu by Joe Russo Photo

Matisyahu by Joe Russo Photo

The show is grooving along and I’m diggin what Matis is layin’ down. Then things suddenly took a turn for the worse. Matisyahu had just finished lighting the 3rd candle on the Menorah he had up on stage…when all of a sudden he went in to the crowd and assaulted Paper Mag’s photographer, Rebecca Smeyne.

Matisyahu by Joe Russo Photo

Here’s my account of the incident I shared with thewaster.com:
“I noticed Rebecca at the very beginning of the show. Thought it was odd that she had a flash attached to her camera. I was standing on the top step on the raised platform to the right of the stage. She was standing a few feet in front of me on the main floor. I was busy shooting and doing my thing. I noticed she was aggressively taking a lot of pics…mostly without her flash…but she still was using her flash throughout the night/show. I noticed she had moved laterally towards the center to get a better angle to shoot Matisyahu lighting the menorah…to which I observed her using her flash repeatedly…and thinking to myself how distracting that must be for any musician performing on stage.

After he lit the 3rd candle on the menorah, I decided to switch to my other camera body and lens for a wider shot. Simultaneously I notice Matisyahu leap in to the crowd. It wasn’t a leap like he was crowd surfing but more like he was walking on water. He seemed to have stepped on one person and with the next step landed on Rebecca and her camera. Now I didn’t see that it was her that he landed on. I only figured out what really happened when Rebecca came out of the crowd and up the steps I was standing on and was telling her story to the girl standing behind me. She was angry and upset. She said that Matis had kicked her and broke her camera, and that she was with or from MTV and was supposed to be there or something like that. Matis climbed out of the crowd and got right in to the next song and never said anything about what just happened.”

Now I don’t condone what Matis did to alleviate his frustration with her one bit. He tweeted some lame, half-assed apology to her and his fans after the show. Rebecca put out her statement via the net after the show as well. In her statement, she mentions that she’s shot some 500 shows in her career… If that’s the case, she should know better not to use a flash during a live performance…EVER.

And the show went on.

You can see the rest of the set on my site.

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