Wikipedia has a list of the tallest men on the planet. The Tallest Man on Earth (a.k.a. Kristian Matsson) is a Swedish-born singer/songwriter whose career I have followed with scores of others for a fair few years now. He’s not on that list.
I saw his show on the promo tour for his new album There’s No Leaving Now at the Vogue Theatre September 10th. After witnessing him live I must add “performer” to the moniker of singer/songwriter. Written and recorded in his home town of Dalarna, Sweden in the winter of 2011/12, There’s No Leaving Now has hailed praise from NME, with a performance in studio at KEXP that made their yearly mix tape Live at KEXP.
Opening the night was the rock duo Strand of Oats, a band worth discovering more about. Their bluesy-sounding rock was a great warmup to Tallest Man on Earth and set the tone for the evening. Excellent sound, a great performance, and an exceptional pairing in terms of the sound of the band.
What he lacks in height, Kristian Matsson more than makes up for in showmanship. His folk songs tend to be extremely complicated, open-tuning strum and pluck patterns. His is not a talent of studio quality alone. Every note, pluck, strum and word was crystal clear, whether played on an electric rhythm guitar, piano, or his scores of separately tuned acoustic guitars. It was my assumption of the show beforehand that the complex compositions of his songs might be toned down for his live performance. I could not have been more happily wrong. Nary a string was missed whether finger-picking or strumming, and in many cases he outdid his studio recordings. His opener “Love Is All” was performed with a moving clarity. Each note struck out like crystal.
His presence on stage alone by himself is indeed large. He captivated us; teased us; treasured us. The Tallest Man on Earth didn’t just play for us, but with us. Playing his guitar for us to sing along to while he pulled his own vocals back, or approaching the mic as if to sing, but seemingly changing his mind at the last instant to play more of his complicated riffs a bit longer. The effect of his stage performance affected those in attendance poignantly. As a performer, the Tallest Man on Earth achieves everything a concertgoer buys a ticket for. He goes beyond reciting music and lyrics, and brings the audience into the performance like seldom seen. Listening to his albums after seeing him live seems to bring more life into his songs. His personality stays with you when you listen to his songs anew, and through his show, he leaves you with the impression that you’ve gotten to know him.