May 20, 2010

I grow a diamond in my chest :: The Tallest Man on Earth in concert

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I don’t know much about the principles of electricity, but I do know that there is something ephemeral and hard to contain about the blue-white volts. As I watched Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth, last night at the Bluebird Theatre, I thought of lightning and static, and how I could almost hear the electricity humming in the air around his tightly wound, wiry, small frame.

Matsson writes some of the most intricately plucked, passionately thought-out songs in my ears these days. His voice is insistent and pressing, enunciated and piercing. You can’t detect any accent from his native Sweden; in fact his rough voice actually does sound akin to the troubadour he’s often compared with (Dylan — not hard to see why). Watching him captivate the crowd, I wondered how anyone could think all folk music on an acoustic guitar was sleepy and rosy. Matsson powerfully channels the urgency of the best folk music of a generation past, comfortable in the soundtrack of today.

Tallest Man 056

For as jovial and talkative as Mattson was, during the songs he was unable to stand still. Each one seemed to be working its way out through his very skin, as he rocked back and forth and locked eyes with folks in the crowd, sitting down for a second only to stand right back up again. It was a kinetic experience. Josh Ritter has a similar undiluted enthusiasm for the crafting of his songs in a live setting, but where Ritter seems to joyfully birth each lyric with a palpable joy, Kristian’s songs feel hard-fought and sharp edged. There is an urgency behind each story he needs to get out. He roils and paces, struggling to let the muse and the melody pass through him authentically to the audience. Standing sometimes like a bird, his skinny legs would tuck and fold one on the other, perching.

The songs were nothing short of gorgeous, even as their words ran me through. Matsson is a master guitar player, inflecting subtle musical variations into the finger-picking patterns of the songs. The bluesy notes seemed to often hang golden and round in the air, practically visible in their radiance. There was a camaraderie there down in front by the stage, like we all knew a secret (while many at the back bar of the sold-out club talked loudly over him, the opener). He played several requests and acknowledged the requesters, hugged two fans pressed up against the stage, and leaned in amongst us every chance he got – dripping sweat.

Tallest Man 102

His music flows beautifully organic, rife with imagery of levees of stars, rivers and snow, and sparrows and bluebirds. But – there’s a dark and sometimes sinister undercurrent to the way Kristian sees the natural world. He’s not writing about the jasmine because it smells good, he’s writing about how it thrives based on the body buried beneath it. The secrets that we keep. The jealousies we foster.

It hit me as I watched him play just how damn much I have fallen in love with his music. As each song started (The Gardener, Where Do My Bluebird Fly, Love Is All, Pistol Dreams, Drying Of The Lawns, an exquisite King of Spain…) I kept feeling frissons of joy inside, thinking, “ooh! I love this song!” After the seventh time, I realized what I meant to say to myself is that I really just deeply love him , and appreciate his music. When I met him after the show, he gave me one of the tightest hugs I’ve yet gotten, and I swallowed hard and thanked him for making my life richer and my heart fuller. I know – cheeseball. But I’ve never claimed to be otherwise, and his music does do that for me, every time.

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Now you must listen. He closed his set with a fairly unknown new song, a bonus track from his new album The Wild Hunt (one of the best albums of 2010 so far, out now on Dead Oceans). And yes — holy heck, it stripped me bare and held me fixed.

Like The Wheel (bonus track) – The Tallest Man on Earth

…In the forest someone is whispering to a tree now
this is all I am so please don’t follow me
And it’s your brother in the shaft that I’m a-swinging
please let the kindness of forgetting set me free

And he said oh my Lord…
why am I not strong?
like the wheel that keeps travelers traveling on
like the wheel that will take you home

And on this Sunday someone’s sitting down to wonder,
‘Where the hell among these mountains will I be?’
There’s a cloud behind the cloud to which I’m yelling
I could hear you sneak around so easily

And I said oh my Lord…
why am I not strong?
like the branch that keeps hangman hanging on
like the branch that will take me home …

I am loving the album version above, but last night’s closing rendition was acoustic and simple with a guitar instead of the piano, and it possesses a separate kind of beauty:

Like The Wheel (live in Portland 5/11/10) – The Tallest Man On Earth

Other highlights? How about him bringing out his marvelous, wrenching cover of Paul Simon’s Graceland? (which I just learned Simon once said was the best song he’d ever written).

Graceland (Paul Simon) – The Tallest Man On Earth
(as if I didn’t know that…)

…and I still think –especially after seeing him do this one live last night– that the lyrics here remain my favorites of any of his songs:

I Won’t Be Found (Daytrotter version) – The Tallest Man On Earth

The Tallest Man on Earth has something to say. I think we should be listening.

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[all pictures over on the Facebook Fuel/Friends page]


  • The Tallest Man on Earth’s lyrics are gorgeous. Nice song.

    Moran — May 20, 2010 @ 10:15 pm

  • Wow. Just wow. I’ve been meaning to listen to him for awhile. Now I know what I’ve been missing and have to make up for lost time. Thanks.

    Michael McCarty — May 20, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

  • I’ve been lurking around your blog for a long long while, but this is the first time I’ve been compelled to comment. This review is beautiful, and thank you so much for making me fall in love all over again with this guy. Plus that Graceland cover is stunning and your photos are so pretty I’ve been coming back to stare at them every half hour. This made my day. Thanks :)

    Vanessa — May 21, 2010 @ 1:07 am

  • There are few artists for me where the performance is as important as the music, but Tallest Man is one of them. The rocking, sitting on a chair and getting up slowly, moving to the edge of the the stage and looking out into the audience right at me I swear, it all adds up to a lot in his show. It sucks you in in a way that him just standing at a mic with his guitar wouldn’t.

    Adrian — May 21, 2010 @ 1:50 am

  • Wow. This sounds awesome. I’m actually going to see him tonight in Iowa City in a bar no bigger than a very small house, and I imagine the experience will be much the same as yours. There’s just…something…. about his music. Urgency is a great word for it, but I don’t think that does it full justice. For now I’ll just call it fantastic.

    Also, I’m interested to see the contrast between his delivery in person and Ritter’s. I saw Josh last week in Chicago and it was much like you describe above where every song I was saying ‘I love this song.’ I imagine I’ll have the same feeling tonight.

    Adam — May 21, 2010 @ 7:51 am

  • adam, i am so jealous. it will be amazing, i pretty much guarantee it. and you’re right that urgency is not the right word, and also right that i can’t quite place what word it is. he has something to say, though. and says it so fantastically.

    i’d love to hear your thoughts on the show after tonight.

    browneheather — May 21, 2010 @ 11:02 am

  • thanks for the “like the wheel” video. it’s too bad he can’t pack a piano with him, but that’s a really fine version.

    joe — May 21, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

  • Next time I’m sitting around debating within whether I should take my lazy bones the ten blocks over to the Bluebird or just, you know, hang out and do nothing, I’ll think of your review and TMOE’s show and know that if I stay at home I’ll probably miss something amazing. Regret sucks.

    Beef — May 21, 2010 @ 2:22 pm

  • Every time that little voice whispers – “Ya know, this guy really can’t sing very well…” he’ll creak & croak out a lyric that only he can deliver and I get goosebumps and smile and move on feeling better than I did when the song began. This guy is truly a gem!

    jimbo — May 21, 2010 @ 4:50 pm

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom K, Eversilences. Eversilences said: I grow a diamond in my chest :: The Tallest Man on Earth in concert: I don’t know much about the pri… (fuelfriends) [...]

    Tweets that mention I grow a diamond in my chest :: The Tallest Man on Earth in concert | Fuel/Friends Music Blog -- — May 22, 2010 @ 4:38 am

  • He’s so good he really makes me want to revisit Dylan and give him another chance as he’s one artist I’ve never really gotten into besides a few of his more well known songs. I’ve seen TMOE twice and he’s coming to Milwaukee again in 4 days and I don’t see how I’m going to be able to talk myself into not seeing him for a third time. The synopsis of his concert and the way it made you feel was talented honest writing Heather – thanks.

    Matt W — May 22, 2010 @ 10:38 am

  • So Heather, you were right. He was absolutely incredible in concert. It’s funny, after the show I was driving home thinking about how to really describe what went on to my wife, who couldn’t make it due to work. I just couldn’t do so, but I think I know why. Seeing The Tallest Man on Earth play isn’t about a shared experience with the crowd, much like it is at other shows. It’s not about singing along or really anything of that sort. It’s about Kristian spilling his guts in front of you in his own personal way and you making of it what you will. You build your own meaning into the words and latch onto devastating phrases that describe a moment in your life perfectly. How many of us have been in a situation where the line from The Drying of Lawns ‘I’m leavin’ because you don’t feel what you’re dreamin’ of’ would have applied perfectly? I can’t imagine any one person comes out of that thinking the same thing about the songs, and that’s the absolute beauty of his show. It’s an extremely different reaction to a show than I had a week ago when I saw Josh Ritter here in Chicago. Coming out of that concert with my wife and my sister we all agreed that we had witnessed something special, that it was perhaps the best show we had ever seen. I’m not so sure had both of them come with that they would have felt the same way. And that’s the beauty of The Tallest Man on Earth. And also the beauty of Josh Ritter. The experiences were so completely different but great in their own ways. Josh Ritter is a writer disguised as a musician. He is a wordsmith. There’s no wasted word, no underdeveloped story, no emotion that he hasn’t fully fleshed out in a song. He writes and delivers his music in a complete and arresting way for fans. The Tallest Man on Earth does not write in this same way. He has so much to say and so little patience to make sure what is coming out of his mouth is beautiful and flowing. He just wants you to know how he feels, and he wants you to feel that, whatever ‘that’ is. If it happens to be beautiful at the same time that’s a bonus, but he needs those words to be croaked out to relieve himself of the pressure they build inside of him. He is emotional without making sense or caring to really dwell on the subject, much like everyone else in this world who begins to talk or write while feeling emotional about something. It is real, passionate, agitated urgency that drives his song, not pretty words or phrases (though those are in there too in far greater quantities than I had ever given him credit for). His music is so personal and so devastating because I think that’s where things come from for him, and it’s the same place they come from for us.

    Adam — May 23, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

  • ohhhhhh that brought tears to my eyes. thank you.

    browneheather — May 23, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

  • So I started listening to the Tallest Man on Earth after reading your first post (w/ “I won’t be Found” -Daytrotter). After hearing that one mp3 I continued to download his recordings from the Daytrotter session he did. All incredible. I’ve worked on learning some of his songs by squinting at live youtube vids, and am enamored with his stage presence and as you put his “insistent and pressing” voice. The trouble is he, like 75% of musical acts, don’t come through the detroit area. I’ve figured that the closest he will be visiting is Ft Wayne, Indiana. And after reading this, I’ve got my final nudge to make the hike. Thanks for the lovely words and being the first to turn my ear to his music.

    Charlie — May 25, 2010 @ 12:06 pm

  • charlie, you will not regret it. thank you for the comment, i am happy.

    browneheather — May 25, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

  • The difference is that Paul Simon can really sing…

    Leob — May 26, 2010 @ 5:38 am

  • As a fan since his 2006 debut EP, I am absolutely thrilled that Kristian’s beginning to find a bigger audience. My first chance to see him was opening for Bon Iver in Brooklyn, 3000 miles from my home. I flew to NY just for the show, and it was worth every penny. One of the best I’ve ever witnessed (from both acts).

    Since then, The Tallest Man On Earth is on the shortlist of artists I will see every single time they come into town. I’m super-excited for his Sasquatch performance this weekend, and even more so for his rumored return to the west coast in the fall, for the chance to see him in a more intimate setting once more.

    Shaun — May 27, 2010 @ 10:56 pm

  • Heather so glad you captured “Like a Wheel” on video! I blogged at Zerovu about a similar experience in Salt Lake. He played without even a microphone and I nearly swooned.

    Kevin — June 6, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

  • I got a crush on him after I saw a Youtube video of his TinyDeskConcert.Two weeks later I convinced a friend to drive withe me 3 hours to see him in Concert in Stuttgart, Germany. Two days befor I noticed he is engaged with this wonderfull singer Hejan and that broke my heart for a few days. After the concert and his hug :) I realised that I not only got a crush.. I am deeply in love with him and all over in Love with his music. It seems that in his music is something I missed for a long time and like he found my letters and reed each on out loud.

    Nelope — September 20, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

  • [...] hearing Tallest Man on Earth’s cover I found myself listening to the original again for the first time in a while. And I soon found [...]

    ipickmynose: an indie, soul and oldies music blog » top song obsessions of the year (2010) — December 31, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

  • [...] Though I’ll confess to being put off by Matsson’s Dylan-esque histrionics at one point in the past, there’s only a hint of Zimmy this time as his singing is utterly drenched with soul here (reaching far above the Earth, I might add). Matsson is a tall man, indeed. Stream both the cover and original song over at Music Vs. Misery, and check out an excellent live review (with a stream of the tune, as well) at Fuel/Friends. [...]

    Listen: The Tallest Man on Earth Covers Paul Simon | My Blog — July 30, 2011 @ 1:42 pm

  • [...] at Music Vs. Misery, and check out an excellent live review (with a stream of the tune, as well) at Fuel/Friends. “Graceland” (Paul Simon [...]

    Listen: The Tallest Man on Earth Covers Paul Simon — March 24, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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