The Tallest Man on Earth
Better than... going to a sideshow to gawk at the actual tallest man on earth.
Last night The Wiltern had assigned seating, creating a more formal setting for Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth, and his intimate brand of folk music. The staging was sparse, consisting of little more than a quiver of guitars, a piano, a single chair, and Matsson himself, who according to the Village Voice is "maybe" five-foot-nine "wearing the right shoes." But in terms of confidence and musical stature, he filled the place to the rafters.
Perhaps because of the concert hall vibe, there was a bit of nervous energy bouncing about, which the audience attempted to diffuse by laughing at everything Matsson said; he ran with it all night, being charming and droll. Matsson began the evening by acknowledging that he was very happy to have a new album out, referring to There's No Leaving Now, released yesterday. One of the first songs he played was the album's lead single "1904," a track that showcased Guthrie-esque storytelling. His narratives are never as well-formed (or as literal) as Woody's were, but the images are stark and strong and vehemently avoid cliche.
Matsson's voice was uniquely strong and very much his own -- a cross between a horse whinnying and its rider yipping giddy-up! Because he's Swedish his voice carries detectable accent -- English is his second language -- but it's mixed with a touch of Americana floating around somewhere; you could imagine him crooning to Kerouac as they hopped trains to unknown destinations. There's also a versatility to it: Matsson sang "King of Spain" last night in a tight-lipped snarl.
He's also unafraid of ballads. After playing two of his best known songs -- "I Won't Be Found" and "The Gardener" -- Matsson sat down at the piano and joked, "It's not just for show, I'm actually going to play this thing." He then broke into the title track from his new album and the lady sitting next to me, who was wearing a leopard-print coat, immediately started crying. I turned to my girlfriend and found that she was also crying.
When the waterworks ended, Matsson got up from the piano. "Don't worry I'm not going to whine all night," he said, and went right into "Troubles Will Be Gone" during which he pointed his knobbed knees together and did a series of tip-toed Elvis-y shakes.
He then played the slow-burn stunner "Where Do My Bluebirds Fly," which he claims he wrote when he was "young and pissed off." In the quiet that followed one of his last notes, someone shouted "boy you looking good!" Matsson smiled and held up his arms so we could all see his sweaty pits.
After a standing ovation prompted an encore, Matsson and his wife Amanda Bergman duetted "Thrown Right at Me", the closing track of his 2010 EP Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird. They shared a microphone and sang "One day, I'll find just that friend who can see, all this weird beauty, thrown right at me" so close they were almost kissing. Then they bowed and we gave them another standing ovation, though I suspect everyone wanted to stand the whole time anyway.
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Personal Bias: One of the knocks on TMOE is that the music is archaic, but I also tend to romanticize the past, which is probably an illusion.
The Crowd: More guys in flannel pseudo-lumberjack shirts than you can shake a stick at.
Random Notebook Dump: Matsson throws his pick away theatrically after almost every song.