My introduction to the Tallest Man on Earth came under the wing of a trusted source: John Darnielle. Kristian Matsson opened for the Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice here in Bloomington in the spring of '09 and despite being the lone performer on the expansive stage of the historic Buskirk-Chumley Theater, he commanded all eyes and ears. In a rare occurrence for me seeing an unknown performer, I was hanging on every note. Yet, I didn't become fully obsessed until I got The Wild Hunt (still a contender for my #1 album) earlier this year. I missed him when he played an intimate house show this spring but luckily this Swede made it to southern Indiana twice in a year (thanks to Spirit of 68 Productions), this time at the famed Bluebird. There was no debate; I had to be there, especially now that I knew the songs.
Opener S. Carey (Sean) was an unknown name to me until I Googled him; turns out he is the touring drummer and pianist for Bon Iver. His own solo album just came out on Jagjaguwar and tracks like "In the Dirt" smack of Sufjan Stevens with gentle melodies supported by lush arrangements of piano, clarinet, flute, vibraphone and more. I wondered who all would hit the road with him. Answer: a bassist who alternated between stand-up and electric (complete with T-rex claw), a drummer who also played vibes, an electric guitarist who played seated (c'mon...) and Carey (also seated), playing piano/keys, acoustic guitar and occasionally goin' nuts on a floor tom and crash cymbal (an O-Zone, for you drummers). They were a sight to see at first, with bowed vibes and ambient electric guitar creating a cool atmosphere around piano-propelled syncopated rhythms, but over time the totally-chill songs started getting a bit samey. I had heard All We Grow called "a headphones record" and it might be awesome in that environment. I ended up being bad and talking to people through a good portion of the set, perking up for a couple of their louder freak-out sessions.
Matsson took the stage to surprisingly raucous applause; he's blown up in this college town for sure. He slurred a welcome into the mic, gave one of his "I know I'm a sexy motherfucker" looks and started into what might have been a new song, the only one of the set I didn't recognize. He sounded great through the mighty Bluebird PA, filling the room several times over with his powerful, ragged voice, guitar countermelodies and mind-blowing finger-picking. He played everything off his brand-new EP, Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird, which happens to be another fantastic collection of songs for voice and guitar (one with freakin' electric guitar) though the whole thing keeps a mellow tone throughout. They went over well live and every time he would pick up that damn electric I was expecting "The Dreamer," which I was really excited to hear, but then he'd play something else. He switched both "Love Is All" and "A Lion's Heart" over to electric, the former with greater success. He finally played "The Dreamer" to start his encore, so it was all good. "Like the Wheel" was the other EP track I was dying to hear and despite its slow tempo and tender chorus vocal, it was incredible live. "Thrown Right at Me" was transformed into a duet with an unknown woman with an amazing voice, and it was pleasant hearing Matsson harmonized for the first time. He may have said her name but I didn't understand him, so if anyone else happens to know, please fill me in.
He performed nearly all of this year's Wild Hunt and half of Shallow Grave, highlights being "I Won't Be Found," "King of Spain," "The Wild Hunt," "The Gardener" and my absolute favorite (though it's a close call) "Burden of Tomorrow." He toyed with the audience, who was in the palm of his hand and singing along heartily, extending instrumental sections and drawing out gaps, giving a sly smile as we all gave him one right back. It was a blast.
The only minor drawback to the set was Matsson's incomprehensible between-song mumbles. It was not his accent, and while the sound system may have played a part in it, he was just talking fast and low and I didn't catch more than half of anything he said. He did speak clearly when he asked for silence to change to a tricky tuning (to paraphrase): "This will take a minute and while it might sound like a song, it's not. Bear with me and a real song will be coming soon."
It was a great night and worth the tired feeling I was still shaking off at work two days later. It is unbelievable how talented this guy is, and I wholeheartedly recommend that all of you go see him, whether you are familiar or not. Music made by a man and a guitar does not get better than this.
- unknown song (new?)
- "Burden of Tomorrow"
- "I Won't Be Found"
- "Pistol Dreams"
- "Love Is All"
- "King of Spain"
- "Thousand Ways"
- "The Wild Hunt"
- "Tangled in the Trampled Wheat"
- "Like the Wheel"
- "The Gardner"
- "Where Do My Bluebirds Fly"
- "You're Going Back"
- "Thrown Right at Me"
- "The Dreamer"
- "A Lion's Heart"
- "This Wind"
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