Sahan Jayasuriya

The Tallest Man on Earth at the Pabst Theater

Tallest Man on Earth albums don't always do justice to the incredible voice of Kristian Matssen, but the Pabst Theater most certainly did.

By - Aug 7th, 2012 07:39 pm

The Tallest Man On Earth performs at The Pabst Theater. Photos: CJ Foeckler

Generally, there’s a stereotype of the folky singer-songwriter—soft spoken and introverted, not unlike their music. Live performances seem to follow suit as well, with the performer seated on stage quietly strumming a guitar, their gentle voice merely a whisper. While this stereotype isn’t completely inaccurate, bringing to mind an artist like Mark Kozelek, for example, this isn’t always the case.

Sweden’s Kristian Matsson, otherwise known as The Tallest Man on Earth, completely destroys this stereotype, and his performance at the Pabst Theater on Sunday, August 5, illustrated this perfectly.

For those of you not familiar with him, Matsson has been releasing music as The Tallest Man on Earth since 2006, with his audience and acclaim growing ever since. Almost immediately, his intricate finger-style guitar playing and nasal vocal delivery found Matsson being compared to classic artists like Bob Dylan and Nick Drake. Since then, his music has developed from stripped-down acoustic and vocal compositions to include strings, percussion and piano.

Upon taking the stage and launching into “To Just Grow Away,” the opening track off of his latest full length, There’s No Leaving Now, one thing was made very apparent-Matsson is hardly the stereotypical singer-songwriter. A chair onstage served as more of a prop, with Matsson energetically stomping around, as if he instead were a member of fellow Swedish band Refused.

Matsson’s albums don’t do his voice justice. His albums, while undoubtedly great in their own right, are unable to capture the sheer power of Matsson’s voice. The characteristics of his voice as heard on his albums were present at the Pabst, but there was a richness and depth to his voice onstage that is absent in his recorded output. Matsson sang with intense passion, his voice echoing beautifully through the walls of the Pabst, sharing more with The National’s Matt Behringer than Bob Dylan.

With Matsson performing live by himself, I wondered how some of his more recent material would sound played in a more stripped-down fashion. The absence of percussion and strings were not even noticed, as his incredible guitar playing and powerful vocal filled out everything beautifully. Songs like “To Just Grow Away” sounded much darker, with Matsson’s voice being accompanied by a dreamy and washed out electric guitar. The title track off of his new album truly showcased the power and emotion in his voice while he sat playing an electric piano. Other highlights included the ultra-catchy single “1904,” fan favorite “King of Spain,” and “The Gardner.”

When a song is stripped down to the core of just its performer and a single instrument, it can expose its failings or showcase its true beauty. After seeing him on Sunday, I can truly say that not only is Kristian Matsson an incredible singer and guitarist, but an incredible songwriter as well. If he ever decides to add other members to his live lineup, I can only imagine how huge that will sound. The audible space he occupies with just his guitar and voice is so powerful, though, that there’s really no need.

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