Saturday night in Philly, he remained “the tallest man” in everyone’s eyes as he left everything onstage at the TLA. I’m talking about none other than Kristian Matsson, Swedish-born singer/songwriter with a rasp like Bob Dylan, and dizzying fingerpicking. Although he goes by the moniker “The Tallest Man on Earth,” what he lacks for in stature he makes up for with unbridled energy, undeniable chops on guitar, and heartbreaking songwriting.
Along for the ride to open the show was Basia Bulat. Bulat, a Canadian multi-instrumentalist (ukulele, autoharp, guitar, keys) and singer/songwriter wowed the crowd with her own fingerpicking, and effortlessly powerful singing voice. I have seen her previously open a show for Hozier, and I must say she has only gotten more magnetic onstage since then. The applause that erupted at the end of her final number, “It Can’t Be You,” was absolutely all encompassing. Even Basia giggled a bit at the response – quite rare for an opening act to win over a cold room in such a short amount of time.
While Basia represented a knowing ease with her stage presence, in her outfit adorned with glitter and sequins for visual affect, Kristian opted for an outfit of all white; perhaps to give the eye something steady to lock onto as he darted around the stage like a feral cat. While his movements are erratic, his voice is soul shattering. I admit when I first heard him sing all those years ago, it was hard for me to understand the appeal of the gravely tones he put forth. But when I heard “The Gardener,” an insanely catchy tune about love and the lengths someone will go to in order to protect it, I was hooked.
Playing a sprawling 22-song set, Matsson alternated between upbeat songs with band like “1904,” and “Sagres,” to more somber numbers like “Fields of Our Home. He also allotted time for solo performances of “I Won’t Be Found,” and a brand new song that he promised to release this week called “Time of the Blue.”
As incredible as he manages to sound on record, the fullness and richness of his voice accompanied by a full band, including Mike Noyce of Bon Iver fame, who also brought his viola into the mix for a gorgeous rendition of “Revelation Blues,” alongside Ben Lester on pedal steel. The opportunity for the band to contribute new textures and sounds to old favorites make seeing The Tallest Man on Earth an absolute must.
Amongst all the lush music, there of course was banter. What Mr. Matsson may lack in banter wit, he makes up for with brutal honesty, which was on full display when he called out a crowdgoer for yelling out something rude. This moment, oddly enough, broke the crowd out of the awkwardness of what was said and everyone laughed about it.
While the crowd sang along the majority of the night, when the opening notes of “Love Is All” were played, it was the start of a full-blown sing along at the top of everyone’s lungs. I’ve never been so happy to yell about letting tears go.
Kristian also found the time to sing one of my favorite songs off Dark Bird Is Home called “Timothy,” written about his friend and fellow musician Timothy Showalter, better known as Strand of Oaks. Showalter hails from Philly so it was only fitting he joined Kristian on guitar for “The Dreamer.” Watching two musicians and great friends onstage clearly having fun jamming, and happily hugging one another was one of the highlights of the night.
Finally, all of the band members, including Basia Bulat joined Kristian onstage to close out with an acapella version of “Like The Wheel,” sending us all out in the hot, muggy air sublimely happy. The woman standing behind me whispered to her boyfriend that this was one of the best times she’d had at a show. Her boyfriend, voice hoarse from whooping and yelling all night, simply replied “FUCK YEAH!” I’d have to agree.
Wind and Walls
Fields of Our Home
Burden of Tomorrow
The Wild Hunt
Darkness of the Dream
Love Is All (solo)
I Won’t Be Found (solo)
The Gardener (solo)
Time of the Blue (new song!!)
Thousand Ways (solo)
Little Nowhere Towns (solo)
Where Do My Bluebird Fly (solo)
King of Spain
Dark Bird is Home
The Dreamer (with Strand of Oaks)
Like the Wheel
Article: Lesley Keller