Back in May, Kristian Matsson, more commonly known as The Tallest Man On Earth, played Stubb’s indoor stage to a sold out audience. Though Norah Jones playing outside kept him from doing a full sound check, he turned in a great performance with nothing more than his raw, Dylanesque voice and a few guitars. A mere four and a half months later, Matsson returned to Austin Saturday with a little more leg room at Antone’s. Despite the change of venue, and a little nervousness on his part, Matsson once again proved why he’s Sweden’s ambassador of folk, as his amount of energy, talent and sheer songwriting skills were once again on display.
Wisconsinites S. Carey started the night with a set of mostly low key indie folk that ran the gamut from forgettable to showing signs that the group has promise. Band leader Sean Carey is best known for his role as a percussionist in Bon Iver. However, his group prefers to take a more atmospheric and ambient approach to the genre, with piano and intricate guitars dominating the mix the majority of the time. This seemed to be the group’s biggest weakness, as the majority of their songs seemed to blend together. However, the songs that utilized drums and a more rhythmic force, such as the very impressive outro to “Mothers,” got the crowd fired up and rightly so. After several songs that seemed to drone on, it was a nice change of pace to hear Carey beat the hell out of his floor tom. Sadly, these moments were few and far between, and it ultimately made for a set that I couldn’t help but feel only lukewarm about.
In stark contrast to his moniker, The Tallest Man On Earth is a relatively shy, soft spoken person. Matsson’s banter with the audience expressed a sort of timidness that is natural when playing a place as big as Antone’s for the first time, and he would often apologize to the crowd while tuning. However, the minute he began plucking his guitar, he became a completely different person. He had a commanding stage presence while playing his songs, as his strained croak echoed throughout the room and he manically moved around the stage while still managing to hit every note on his guitar. It’s this sort of enthusiasm and energy that defines both his music and his live show, and it was easy to tell that he was putting everything he had into his performance.
All of the best songs from Matsson’s 2008 debut Shallow Grave and this year’s The Wild Hunt were present and accounted for, including a couple of tracks from his recently released EP Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird. From the vivid imagery of “I Won’t Be Found” to the declaratory lines of love found in “King of Spain,” Matsson played them all with aplomb and a sense of sheer fire confidence that many singer-songwriters could only wish for. His set sounded great too, thanks to the improved acoustics of Antone’s and his ability to actually do a sound check. Songs like “The Wild Hunt” and “Pistol Dreams” sounded full and warm, and that ambiance was felt throughout the room.
While the mentions of Dylan will always be something that Matsson has to deal with, he can take comfort in knowing that he is among an elite group of artists that have successfully transcended the comparison by simply letting the music do the talking. His set spoke volumes to the sold out crowd at Antone’s, and it is likely that Austin will be eagerly awaiting his return.
The Tallest Man On Earth: