Kristian Matsson, better known as The Tallest Man on Earth, doesn’t need much for an introduction. The Swedish born singer-songwriter rocks a style so unique and unmatchable that most who’ve heard him once could recognize his sound anywhere. Blogs often attribute that unmistakable quality to his voice, for which enough treatises exist that I’ll save the space here. However, seeing Matsson live, it’s quickly clear that his yearning croon is still the reason he’s owned just about every stage, from intimate KEXP sessions to massive festivals, with not much more than a voice and a guitar.
But now that he's touring on his fourth studio album, Dark Bird Is Home, out on Dead Oceans, the larger question remains, what more does The Tallest Man on Earth have to prove? Maybe nothing. After all, in front of a packed crowd still eager to luxuriate in the weeping euphoria of his wrenching ballads, Matsson could easily relax and treat the rest of his touring days as a metaphorical victory lap. Instead, The Tallest Man on Earth chose to create something different. With the help of a slick new backing group (featuring Michael Noyce, the baby-faced, falsetto wielding assassin who also plays with Bon Iver), Mattson and his band combined to make songs more bombastic and triumphant than ever, and as such, presented a more compelling question: what’s left to explore?
Moving towards a more stripped down sound, opener Lady Lamb, a.k.a. Aly Spaltro, ditched her own backing band in favor of a solo set. Armed with nothing but a Fender guitar and her alternately sweet and raw vocals, the singer-songwriter from Bruin, Maine, harnessed vulnerability like a scalpel in relentless pursuit of any and all heartstrings at The Moore, even going so far as to profess that she lacks the confidence for guitar solos. Spaltro effused the type of casual cool that transforms cavernous theaters into cozy living rooms. As she churned through disarmingly honest tracks such as “Billion Eyes” from 2015’s After (Mom + Pop), her set slipped into the vibe of a stirring but laid-back wine party where everybody’s invited and no story is off limits. Only the giant forms of light reflecting from Spaltro’s s tuning pegs onto the theater wall betrayed the intimate scene she’d so immaculately set. In spite of her at times self-deprecating nature, it’s clear that Lady Lamb is a tried and true professional.
Not often does the The Tallest Man on Earth get to take the stage as the more elaborate and production heavy act, but with each member of a five man band commanding multiple instruments, that’s exactly what happened. And where that extra pizazz could easily water down the pure union of vocals and guitar that fans have come to love about the Swedish folk act, the extra pieces instead acted as a perfect balancing factor. Drums, bass, and reverb-drenched sax offered pop tracks like “1904” and “Slow Dance” more zest, while at the same time building towards an addition-by-subtraction release point when Matsson went solo for classics like “The Gardener” and “Love is All”. Perhaps the most striking combo was the guitar duet between Matsson and Noyce for “Where Do My Bluebird Fly.” The two man team captured all the immediacy of a solo performance while adding the tension and movement that comes with two sounds running into, between, and over one another in tight choreography.
And in fact, movement may be the best way to sum up The Tallest Man on Earth’s set. Between dancing on top of subwoofers and sliding around nearly every inch of possible stage, Matsson makes sure that no matter how morose the material, sedentary moaning will never do. Maybe that’s why Dark Bird is Home, written in the wake of divorce and the death of a close family member, is some of his most grandiose work to date. Maybe that’s why even after reaching great peaks in both critical and audience appreciation, the dedicated artist shows no signs of slowing down. Maybe that’s why when The Tallest Man on Earth throws his guitar pick to the ground in emphatic exhaustion after nearly every song, we never doubt that he’ll soon reach for another.
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