Besting the Revelation Blues With The Tallest Man On Earth

Kristian Matsson, the Swedish folk singer-songwriter better known as The Tallest Man On Earth, has been an absolute favorite of mine since I first heard the title track from his sophomore album The Wild Hunt nearly a decade ago. It wasn’t until 2016’s Nelsonville Music Festival that I finally got a chance to see The Tallest Man on Earth in concert, though. That summer, Matsson was touring with a full band in support of Dark Bird Is Home and he played a tremendous set at Nelsonville.

After having to endure such a long wait to see him perform live for the first time, I was thrilled to hear that The Tallest Man On Earth was returning to the Midwest this May and I jumped at the chance to catch his show at the Madison Theater in Covington, Kentucky, on May 8th.

The Tallest Man On Earth live at the 2016 Nelsonville Music Festival. Photo by Curt Whitacre.
The Tallest Man On Earth live with full band at the 2016 Nelsonville Music Festival. Photo by Curt Whitacre.

Unlike the full band performance at Nelsonville, The Tallest Man On Earth is a one-man act for his current tour. I’m sure this reflects the sparser nature of the arrangements on his latest album, I Love You. It’s A Fever Dream. This new album didn’t leave much of an impression on me after my initial listen (perhaps because it hasn’t been released on vinyl yet and I’m less likely to really concentrate on an album I’m listening to on a computer), but my opinion was completely changed after seeing and hearing these songs performed live this week. Songs like “My Dear,” “What I’ve Been Kicking Around,” I’m A Stranger Now” and “The Running Styles of New York” are all brilliant additions to the Tallest Man on Earth songbook. I’ve spent the days following the concert listening to I Love You. It’s A Fever Dream on a near-constant loop.

As a performer, Matsson has enough energy and charisma to fill an entire stage by himself. He spent the duration of this concert rotating between electric guitar, acoustic guitar, banjo and keyboards. This did mean that his set list leaned heavily on songs from the new album and The Wild Hunt, since it’s hard to do justice to many of the tracks from Dark Bird is Home without a band (“Little Nowhere Towns” sounded great, though, even without the backing vocals from the studio and 2016 touring versions). He also threw in an unexpected cover of “I Say a Little Prayer,” the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song popularized by both Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin.

I’m not sure where the new live video for the I Love You. It’s A Fever Dream. standout-track “I’m A Stranger Now” was shot on Matsson’s current tour, but his stage setup was identical at the Madison Theater on May 8th.

I’ll be heading to Chicago in October to see Joanna Newsom‘s “Strings/Keys Incident” solo residency at Thalia Hall. The Tallest Man On Earth has set a high bar for this kind of solo performance. Like Matsson, I first saw Newsom perform live backed by a full band at the 2010 MusicNOW Festival. I can’t wait to see how these two solo performances will stack up.

As for Matsson, I’ll keep catching The Tallest Man On Earth in concert any chance that I can get, without or with a full band. You should do the same. Here’s a bonus video to help convince you, featuring The Tallest Man On Earth performing with the great chamber sextet yMusic:

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