There are great songwriters that aren’t so compelling to watch, but they create great art, and then there are great performers who put on a great show but whose music is, well, forgettable. And then you have the rare gift of Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man On Earth, who not only crafts heartbreakingly poetic verses wrapped in lines that hook you in but puts on some of the best live shows with just himself and a guitar… or a banjo… or a keyboard.
Due to complications of traveling and the COVID-19 pandemic, catching The Tallest Man On Earth live again seemed like an increasingly distant dream. The last time I had seen Matsson perform was before the release of his last LP, I Love You. It’s A Fever Dream, back in 2018 at the Lincoln Theatre. A performance that stuck with me. So, standing in line on Sunday night for a sold-out show at the 9:30 Club, it felt like the thaw from a long winter of waiting. And it was well worth the wait.
Prancing onto the stage to a huge applause and the recorded piano arrangement of “Too Late for Edelweiss” by Håkan Hellström, Matsson appeared open armed, soaking up the reaction. And in front of an array of backlit panels that seemed choreographed to his movements, he started off with a song that I didn’t immediately recognize but slowly melded into one of my favorites, “The Gardener.”
Taking a moment, Matsson acknowledged how long it’s been. “I’m so happy and so grateful to be back and at the 9:30 Club… Look at you!” And after switching to a 12-string guitar with sounding like ringing chimes on one song which then shifted into a stirring version of “Wind and Walls,” which then flowed right into “Dark Bird Is Home” without missing a beat.
“I’m sweating after three songs,” Matsson called out, having raced across the stage as his finger flew with matching speed. And switching guitars, Matsson went into “A Lion’s Heart” with the alternating tones awash in reverb.
It wasn’t until he sat at the keyboard for “There’s No Leaving Now,” the poetic lines of “If they are with you and your heart won’t fail / To see through a fearless eye / And know that danger finally goes away / Still you’re trying / But there’s no leaving now” -– those last lines whispered — that Matsson seemed to catch his breath.
But it wouldn’t last long as he picked up the manic pace, playing songs that seemed sung to each audience member, in the moment, like we were all in a much smaller place. “I was doing a lot of gardening… being reminded of my own mortality all the time. I realized I needed my people,” he began. “We get into a room and listen to break up songs together… You are an inspiration to me.”
Stream “There’s No Leaving Now” by The Tallest Man On Earth via YouTube:
I had several favorites of the night, but one that I keep coming back to was how Matsson started off slowly with a very Lou Reed like intro but then busted out into “1904.” And those sweet, and hilarious, stories in between only helped to cement this into one of my favorite shows in a long time.
There are a lot of great songs in The Tallest Man On Earth list, but I think my newest favorite, which I was introduced to the last time I saw him perform, is “I’m a Stranger Now,” where the audience sings along to the refrain, with an incredible return for an encore of “The Wild Hunt” and “”Like the Wheel.”
The Tallest Man On Earth continues his tour through March and more can be found here.