As I approached my seat at the Beacon Theater one month ago, I was nervous that I had missed some of the The Tallest Man On Earth’s set. It took me a few minutes to realize that Hiss Golden Messenger was onstage, a folk rock band whose lead vocalist sounded so similar to The Tallest Man that Kristian Matsson himself could’ve fronted the band if they were performing circa 1970.
20 minutes after the opening act ended, the lights dimmed and The Tallest Man walked on stage. Infused with adrenaline, he ran up and down the aisles before jumping back onstage and piercing into the first acoustic chord of Fields Of Our Home. The jumpy progression and bright strumming was an excellent early audience grabber and arranged the mood for the rest of the set. After Slow Dance and 1904 the first highlight of the night was Singers. Backed by soothing saxophone, vibrant violin, and beautiful French horn colors, Matsson’s vocals shined with tender and genuine emotion. Next came a flawless and well-rehearsed full band rendition of Darkness Of A Dream, but the following song engaged the audience more.
Even though all of the full band songs were stellar in their delivery and performance, and the men backing Matsson are Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver teammates, something unique rings out in the name The Tallest Man On Earth that screams singer/songwriter. Just Matsson, a guitar (acoustic or electric) and his voice is all that I need as a Tallest Man aficionado. And Love Is All I need to fulfill my set list desires when I see him live. The Gardner was next and was performed in a bit of a lower key, which perked my ears up.
It’s always an exciting moment for me when I’m at a show and the band tells the audience that they’re going to play an unreleased song. There’s an acoustic lo-fi version of The Tallest Man’s song Weather Of A Killing Kind on YouTube, but we were graced with a more upbeat, intriguing electric version at the Beacon. After, Matsson broke into an electric solo which transitioned to Sagres, a song I wasn’t crazy about when the album came out but the musical energy live was truly outstanding. During The Wild Hunt the drum set kicked in and my excitement for the song lessened. This was the first time during the whole show where I wished The Tallest Man played the song solo instead of with the full band.
“It says sad songs only on the marquee outside, but this is our one happy song,” Matsson said before the band launched into Timothy, a song dedicated to his close friend Timothy Showalter (Strand Of Oaks). This is a song that I was excited about when the album came out but it felt extremely rushed live. Revelation Blues was a song I would’ve preferred to hear acoustic and solo but the electric full band energy radiated floating waves throughout the room at the Beacon. Next Matsson played Wind And Walls, my favourite tune from his third album. One of my favourite Tallest Man moments ever is the silence break/fake out ending in this song and then he surges right back into the music with “This is where you’re passionate.” This moment definitely lived up to my excitement. A Lion’s Heart and the rest of the solo songs prove that he doesn’t need full band support. His stage presence is far superior to most of the other singer/songwriters in his genre and his energy is incredible as well, kicking chairs and slamming his picks on the ground at the end of songs.
The major highlight of the night was Little Nowhere Towns a beautiful piano song and my favourite on the latest album, Dark Bird Is Home. Usually it’s Matsson’s guitar picking rhythms and riffs that showcase his masterful talent, but he brought these complexities to the piano for this song, proving his skills as musician can be displayed adequately on multiple instruments. Where Do My Bluebird Fly was another treat as Matsson got help from a backing guitar player. The song soared with dual electric guitar swells and crisp amplified tones. When he welcomed the rest of the band back to the stage he joked, “Here come the other Americans who make this little old Swede look and sound a lot better.” Beginners was the third to last song of the set and was played with a full band, which was different from the solo acoustic version on the album. Again, the drumbeat ruined the song because it doesn’t need more rhythm than the Tallest Man already provides with his glorious fingerpicking.
The set closer was an electric version of Dark Bird Is Home and the trumpet and saxophone colours lit up the room as a powerful ending. Two fans in the front row were dancing in the aisle until an usher shined his flashlight on them to get back in their seats. For the encore the backing band took the stage and began to play the music for The Dreamer and then Matsson came out to belt the lyrics. Like The Wheel was the last song of the show and showcased the gorgeous backing harmonies of the other vocalists in The Tallest Man’s new touring band. There were many surprises and many changes for this show but just as he sings in Singers, “guess we’re always in the structures of the little things we learn, but we’re only gone like singers are till springtime, let them out if they should let them out.”
By Scott J. Herman