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.