Kristian Matsson, who goes by the stage name The Tallest Man On Earth, has been creating and performing for more than 10 years. He’s been compared at times to Bob Dylan, but beyond the folk veneer is a growing body of work that is expanding both lyrically and musically. He explored that exceptional at the Lincoln Theatre on Friday.
After his early records of simply acoustic guitar and voice, Kristian created recordings that have incorporated other instrumentation and even a full band on his last full-length LP, 2015’s Dark Bird Is Home. Over the past couple of years, however, The Tallest Man On Earth seemed to pull back on that sound a bit, reworking some songs with the sextet chamber ensemble, yMusic, for a 2017 EP and most recently putting out a series of singles under the title When the Bird Sees the Solid Ground, which saw a return to primarily solo guitar but accented with horns and strings.
Stream When the Bird Sees the Solid Ground by The Tallest Man On Earth on Spotify:
And while each record is complete with finely crafted songs that stay with you long after they end, it is Kristian’s stage presence and performance that draws so many to his shows. Although I’ve seen The Tallest Man On Earth previously (the last full tour included an entire band), this tour appeared to be different.
In front of a sold-out crowd at the Lincoln Theater, Kristian poured out his heart.
The evening started in dark with a recorded cover of “Too Late for Edelweiss” by Håkan Hellström as Kristian rushed onto the stage through flowing smoke, popping in and out of the spotlight to enormous applause. It was a brief introduction to the spectacle to come.
As the intro faded, Kristian took to his guitar, playing “To Just Grow Away” from There’s No Leaving Now. As he played through the smoke, the stage lit up through pillars at the rear of the stage. And as the opening chords to “Like The Wheel” started, I wasn’t the only one in this crowd who was hit by the power of that refrain, “And I said oh my lord why am I not strong / Like the wheel that keeps travelers traveling on / Like the wheel that will take you home.”
As Kristian told the crowd, this was a return to touring, “I haven’t played a show in America in two and a half years, and now it’s like I live here.” But it was difficult to recall his absence as from one song to the next, Kristian danced across the stage, reaching out with his guitar to those in the audience. It assuredly was a brilliant performance on the last tour a few years back when Kristian toured with a full band. But seeing him on this same stage in front of a sold-out crowd Friday, playing these songs unaccompanied, was transcendent.
Even hiccups like when he momentarily forgot some lyrics, Kristian sheepishly said that the tech who was helping him, Anna, wouldn’t let him play guitar as a result — moving to the keyboard/piano for the next song, “Little Nowhere Towns,” until she returned with a guitar for “Love Is All.” Kristian held his hands up in thanks and a joking penance.
Kristian was full of energy both in his performing and in those quieter times when he interacted with the audience. As he quieted the theater, Kristian mused on how amazing it was to not hear or see the energy coming from the crowd but could feel that energy. “I want to spread love and happiness because there’s so much shit in the world.”
Throughout the set, Kristian seemed to be playing all my favorites — big doses of early songs and new ones — and even changing the end of “Leading Me Now” into a version of “Say a Little Prayer” by Aretha Franklin. But the real highlight had to be when after announcing a new song, “I’m a Stranger Now,” he engaged the entire theater in singing along (and even taking up the reigns) for the refrain, “We are strangers now.” As he did this, Kristian got up, unplugged his guitar, and continued playing through the audience, making his way up the aisles as the everyone sang along.
For the encore, Kristian took a request for “The Wild Hunt” and went on to play an ABBA cover, “The Winner Takes It All” before ending a brilliant evening with “Kids on the Run.”
The Tallest Man On Earth just started a world tour, and I have to say this has been one of my favorite performances of this year. Definitely check him out on tour here.
To Just Grow Away
Like the Wheel
I Won’t Be Found
All I Can Keep Is Now
Little Nowhere Towns
Love Is All
Forever Is a Very Long Time
Time of the Blue
Somewhere in the Mountains, Somewhere in New York
Leading Me Now / Say a Little Prayer (Aretha Franklin cover)
I’m a Stranger Now
There’s No Leaving Now
Then I Won’t Sing No More
King of Spain
The Wild Hunt
The Winner Takes It All (ABBA cover)
Kids on the Run
Here are some photos of the Tallest Man On Earth performing at The Lincoln Theater on Nov. 9, 2018. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.