Kristian Matsson, aka singer-songwriter The Tallest Man On Earth, played a sold-out show at The Orange Peel this week. Now, selling out the Peel is no small feat and Matsson performs solo. With an acoustic guitar. And he sings folk songs. But, from the moment Matsson took the stage on Tuesday night, the audience was enraptured, listening mostly quietly and singing along from opening song “To Just Grow Away.”
Worth noting: The Orange Peel show was originally planned as a partially-seated concert. Due to brisk ticket sales, it ended up being a standing-room only event. However, unlike many sold-out shows, this one was relatively calm (likely because it’s hard to hear a solo act if you’re getting rowdy). That, and Swedish-born Matsson has a commanding presence (even though he is, despite his stage name, a smallish guy).
It’s that magnetism that accounts for the Tallest Man On Earth’s growing popularity. He’s a formidable talent — an excellent finger-style guitarist (readily apparent on “Leading Me Now”) and also skilled at creating enough rhythm with a single instrument that his songs come off as driving and danceable. Matsson carried the melody with his voice, at times a David Gray rasp; at times (and often mentioned as such) a nasally Dylan-esque wail. “1904” definitely recalled early Dylan, with raw high notes causing girls in the audience to scream “I love you!” in the direction of the stage.
Matsson also has a keen sense of dynamics. He — just a guy in skinny jeans and a tank top — filled the room, but he also sang and played so softly at points (during “Love Is All,” for example) that the audience could be heard as a chorus. And he seemed genuinely determined to please his crowd, frequently saying “thank you for listening” before a song and playing, kneeling, before the front row at times. At one point, after a request from the audience, Matsson summoned his guitar tech back to the stage with a different guitar than the one he was about to play and announced, “just because you asked,” before launching into “These Days” (a Jackson Browne cover).
He followed that song with “I Won’t Be Found”; the crowd burst into a cheer at the opening chords. If Matsson has hits, than this is one, along with “King Of Spain” and “The Gardener,” both of which he also played during his hour-plus set. The latter, with the darkly poetic line, “I know the runner’s going to tell you / there ain’t no cowboy in my hair / so now he’s buried by the daisies / so I could stay the tallest man in your eyes, babe” explains Matsson’s stage moniker.
His writing is definitely part of the equation of what makes Matsson so contagiously likable, even though all of what he’s doing has been done before. He’s a story teller and a troubadour, but he also informs his songwriting with a sense of magic and wonder in the vein of Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain” or Cat Stevens’ “Moonshadow.” He performed “There’s No Leaving Now” while sitting at the keyboard (he only played keys on a few songs and those were his least engaging by far); that song contains the line, “to be lost like a child.” A couple slow danced while Matsson sang, sweepingly, in his upper register. That song (along with “Leading Me Now,” “1904,” “Criminals” and “Wind and Walls”) is the title track of the Tallest Man On Earth’s June release.
Matsson played electric guitar on the atmospheric, “Where Do My Bluebirds Fly?” with the hauntingly-lovely line, “You’re just a riddle in the sky.” His voice easily hit the sweet spots in the song’s perfectly-placed half-notes. If this was the most contemporary of the evening’s offerings, it’s certainly not more catchy that the folk-rockers like “King of Spain,” a brassy and resonant favorite.
That song was followed by the moody, bluesy “On Every Page,” also from the new album. While it mellowed out the frenzied energy of the room, the song also showed off Matsson’s intensity and his ability to craft a piece that’s both lilting and emotive. The writing recalls some of Jim Croce’s more poignant hits.
Matsson returned to the stage for a two song encore including “The Dreamer,” which he performed at the keyboard. If the Tallest Man On Earth is a much-hyped act, it’s hype well-deserved, and the show was nothing short of spellbinding. The only disappointment was that Matsson’s wife, Amanda Bergman (a musician in her own right who performs as Idiot Wind), did not join him on stage as she sometimes does. But now, with two successful, sold-out Asheville shows to his credit (including 2010’s performance at Forsythia Hall which sold so well an early show was added to the evening), hopefully the Tallest Man On Earth (with Bergman by his side) will return soon.
Before leaving Asheville, Matsson and Strand Of Oaks (who opened the Orange Peel show) recorded a Moog Sound Lab session (photo below, courtesy of Moog Music, via @MoogMusicInc on Twitter). They performed the Tallest Man On Earth’s “Like the Wheel,” with Matsson running his acoustic guitar through Moogerfoogers. Strand Of Oaks front man Tim Showalter played a Moog E1 guitar and Chris Ward played a Minimoog synthesizer. Look for that video to be released by Moog Music in the near future.
All photos by Rich Orris, except for the Moog Music Twitter photo.