"did you get to be who you are. and if not, then why. that, my friend, is the big why." - Michael Winter

best in show: the tallest man on earth


Compare and contrast. Lady Lamb, alone in the spotlight, standing before three tiers of seated guests. Both ageless and aged, these songs could be sung to a lover, to the room, or to no one at all. Gracious and graceful, she places her guitar down and steps away. Darkness is warmed by a soft glow as the lights turn up, the crowd murmuring after being silent.

Compare and contrast. With a flying leap off stage, Kristian Matsson arrives and The Tallest Man on Earth fills Massey Hall. Dressed only in white, legs twisting separately from his body, he dances with the assurance of someone who usually holds attention on his own. He leaves everything on stage, and after just three songs one starts to wonder how he’s going to keep this up. And he does.

Compare and contrast. Matsson usually performs alone, and is now touring with a band for the first time. He is backed by 4 multi-instrumentalists and together these 5 play the parts of many. Like a Swedish Bon Iver, the guided effort is collaborative. Bassist plays the sax. Backing guitar becomes violin. The drummer plays a synthesizer, and to his right multiple keyboards form an L-shape around a low stool. As for the lead, acoustic and electric guitars are swapped out like musical chairs every time the music stops. Matsson litters his picks on the floor as he plugs in, tossing them away as though offensive. No two sounds are the same, but are cohesive, and the crowd remains rapt while dancing in their seats. He conducts his symphony with each song thoughtfully arranged and different from the last, prominent when switching from the orchestral sounds of strings and horns to three full-blown electric guitars, or when The Tallest Man on Earth jumps onto the piano for “Little Nowhere Towns”.

Compare and contrast. These songs sound wistful but are performed with great happiness. As an example of how at ease everyone felt, when he makes a joke about coyotes the whole crowd is actually howling. As the last notes of the Springsteen-tinged “Darkness Of The Dream” roll away, with lyrics like “a fear of heart and all of its turnings / and it’s never letting go / I’m sure I’ll sleep when all this goes under / but now, will I sleep alone?” he reassures he is not “that cynical”, and expresses gratitude while reflecting on being hopeful despite despair. The warmth radiating from the stage is tangible, felt into the deepest recesses of the balconies.

Compare and contrast. Drawing a curtain, act two begins after “Timothy” when the band recedes and leaves The Tallest Man on Earth solo on stage. Matsson is a natural performer, and those he commands have the infectious experience of seeing someone do what is inherently innate to them. He is a storyteller, weaving together intersecting words, music, and actions, to tell his tales. Fitting around stage, he dances on the tips of his toes like a winged animal about to take flight. Finally he perches on the edge of a wooden riser, music flowing from a deep well that can no longer be contained.

Compare and contrast. Another drastic transition from solo to band marks the beginning of act three. “Sagres”, a song about Portugal from his newest album “Dark Bird Is Home”, is coloured with additional synthesizers. Now the drums are booming and muffled, and golden guitars feature impressive fingerpicking. By the time “The Wild Hunt” reaches its chorus of “I plan to be forgotten when I’m gone / yes I’ll be leaving in the fall”, the whole crowd wants to burst into an old-fashioned sing-a-long. Vocals are clear, confident, and yearning. As he cries ”sometimes it’s just roses / dying too young” during “Revelation Blues”, he melts until he can’t stand anymore, falling crosslegged to the ground. The house lights get turned up momentarily when someone shouts out in Swedish, and during a quiet moment someone else in the now-rambunctious crowd comments on those white pants. Matsson has been waiting for this, responding that “in Europe, pretty much everything is okay”. He dedicates “Criminals” to Lady Lamb, after already sending his love out to a friend’s 30th anniversary earlier in the night. He tugs gently at every heartstring wrapped around his fingers.

Compare and contrast. Acrimony, producing a byproduct of longing. Deliberately, he ends the set with the title track from the record he is touring. Tongue-in-cheek, the words betray his emotions – “no this is not the end and no final tears / that will lead to show / I thought that this would last for a million years / but now I need to go / oh, fuck”. Always appropriate, songs for their inevitable encore are also intentional. The whole room finally gives in, and “The Dreamer” draws a crowd of dancers beside the stage and in the aisles, singing together – “sometimes the blues is just a passing bird / and why can’t that always be / tossing aside from your birches crown / just enough dark to see / how you’re the light over me”. Using his band as an acapella backup group, they finally end with “Like the Wheel”. Taking a deep bow, the final sentiment is for “the wheel that keeps travelers traveling on / like the wheel that will take you home”.

Original article on Extreme Nonchalance.

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© Kristin Lee Conrad