Tallest Man on Earth
Town Hall NYC
Tuesday, June 19
Better than: Times Square’s neon-lit maximalism.
Halfway through his set at Town Hall last night, Kristian Matsson—also known as Tallest Man on Earth—set his acoustic guitar down and clumsily stumbled to the other side of the stage, sitting down at a grand piano. “I can’t really play this thing over here; it’s hard,” he mused softly into the microphone. “But I like to sing.” He carefully placed his hands on the keys, fluttering his fingers just enough to make the audience doubt what he had just said, and squeaked out the first words to the title track of his recently released LP There’s No Leaving Now, a song about overcoming the fear of failure. The concertgoers watched as this man, solo among his five guitars and single piano, earnestly shared his demons—a recurring image throughout the night.
The 29-year-old Swede, at times, seemed like he felt a little out of place. And really, that wouldn’t be a surprise. With its etched stone walls and its seating chart, Town Hall NYC is a joint that, although beautiful, feels a bit too much like the real-life version of an adult contemporary radio station. Moreover, for an artist like Matsson, who is currently operating in the middle ground between underground and mainstream, understanding who exactly the target demo is might be confusing. But who’s to say that’s a bad thing? If anything, the hodgepodge of people, found smack in the middle of Midtown, speaks to the quality of the Tallest Man on Earth’s music. The typical “cooler-and-more-in-touch-with-my-feelings” attitude often found at folk music concerts, from both performers and viewers, was absent. With that front gone, focusing on the music became the priority, whether you were the high schooler screaming your love for Mattson at the end of his set or the music critic taking notes in the back.
There’s a quiet confidence to Matsson. It’s clear that he enjoys the attention (who wouldn’t?), but he knows his talent and limits, and coyly plays with both. Sometimes, he comes across a little too earnest, like letting himself get so wrapped up into songs that his legs quite literally twist around like a pretzel, or purposely not singing the words “tallest man” in the rendition of “The Gardener,” acting as a cutesy metaphorical wink to the audience. Yet after each song, he still sheepishly repeats, “Thank you, thank you,” with a head nod, endearingly coming off more embarrassed than cocky.
On Town Hall NYC’s widemouth stage, under blue and red lights, Matsson’s 16-song set lasted just under two hours. Throughout, he shared images of birds flying, Scandinavian mountaintops, and whimsical stories of falling in love—the single blend of his voice and guitar were often enough to fill the room to its utmost capacity. It must be something to have that kind of presence, the kind where every person’s eyeballs in a sold-out concert hall are locked on every move you make, whether you’re singing or tuning or stammering. That Matsson can command this attention without demanding it elevates him above other artists.
Following a quiet version of “Wind and Walls,” during which he told stories of people lying about “lions, treasures, and kings,” he grabbed the mic, jesting, “Now, I’m going to sing a song about the same thing.” A few finger picks later on “Like the Wheel,” he questioned, “Why am I not strong?/ Like the wheel that keeps travelers traveling on/ Like the wheel that will take you home.” Perhaps it’s lyrics like this, representative of his continuous quest to solve unanswerable questions while keeping wonder alive, that keep listeners hooked.
Critical bias: Last time I saw the Tallest Man on Earth was a few years back, while still in college, at a shitty, musty Iowa City bar called the Mill. I drunkenly bought a vinyl copy of his first LP, Shallow Grave, and it remains as the only physical record I’ve nearly played out.
Overheard: “That was good, but not as good as Bon Iver.”—a man in a tie on the train following the performance, unknowingly giving me the perfect joke for the Internet.
Random notebook dump: #feelings
To Just Grow Away
Love Is All
Leading Me Now
I Won’t Be Found
There’s No Leaving Now
Troubles Will Be Gone
Where Do My Bluebird Fly
The Wind and Walls
Like The Wheel
King of Spain
On Every Page
Thrown Right On Me (w/ Amanda Bergman)