The Tallest Man On Earth @ Melbourne Recital Centre
There are two things that can be said about The Tallest Man On Earth’s musical offerings:
1) They sound like frosty childhood memories from another life in a wintery bowl of folk.
2) If you could marry a song, you would want to choose a Swedish bride from The Tallest Man’s back catalogue.
Unfortunately for Kristian Matsson, better known as The Tallest Man On Earth, the bill on legalising marital ties to songs has yet to be passed. Otherwise his performance on Thursday 28 February at the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Elisabeth Murdoch Hall would have seen our fair city scrambling for some of the most eligible musical brides around.
First thing’s first, let’s address the guitar-toting balladeer in the room. If you are a Bob Dylan fanatic, The Tallest Man will have had you begging for his love before you even took your seat. The Dylan comparisons, and those with American folk legend Woody Guthrie, are undeniable, and we say that in only the most approving way. However, Matsson’s gravelly voice and finger-picking style grow into a far more charismatic performance on the live stage, informing his recordings as being more than just Dylan-imitations.
The Tallest Man’s set came bursting to life after a mood-setting instrumental introduction to welcome him on stage, as he picked up an acoustic guitar and quite literally stumbled into ‘King of Spain’, a fan favourite and perfect opener. The pulsing chords got the audience smiling as Matsson’s distinctive growl kicked in with an intense gaze to match. A mischievous Swedish grin and no shortage of thank-yous carried the set through a number of songs from The Tallest Man’s 2010 second album The Wild Hunt, with upbeat ‘Burden of Tomorrow’ featuring beautiful lyrics “Rumour has it I wasn’t born, I just walked in one frosty morn, into the vision of some vacant mind”. The reflectively contained ‘Love Is All’ captured those wintery memories, whilst the driving, fast-paced ‘1904’ threw the audience into last year’s There’s No Leaving Now territory. As Matsson shifted to the Steinway piano for a majestic performance of the album’s title track, he remarked at how he was “just a scruffy Swedish dude they let in”. Yet with a belting return to the acoustic for debut album Shallow Grave opening track ‘I Won’t Be Found’, and a stance much like a crane, poised on one leg at times, this scruffy Swedish dude reminds us just how he has earned his following. Channelling the energy that comes with sleep-deprivation, he prowled around the stage between verses of ‘The Gardener’, actively making eye contact with members in each section of the hall and chilling spines with the deceptively sweet murder ballad.
The intimacy of the internationally acclaimed venue lent itself superbly to his stage presence, and it was clear why the acoustics of the space are so highly regarded. Between songs, Matsson explained how jetlag would be “his thing” if it weren’t for so many artists talking about it, and responded to an audience member’s confession of love with “you can’t say you love me, you haven’t seen me in the morning”.
The room fell silent in blissful, bittersweet awe as The Tallest Man exchanged his acoustic for a reverb-heavy electric rendition of his stellar hit ‘Where Do My Bluebird Fly’, capturing a passion that many artists would sell their left kidney for.
More recent hits followed, with 2010 bonus track ‘Like the Wheel’ a highlight of the night. The set closed on piano ballad ‘Kids on the Run’, seeing a standing ovation and a notably humbled scruffy Swedish dude. After a resounding call for more, Matsson returned to the stage to deliver two more gems. The finale was a fittingly lively performance of ‘The Wild Hunt’, led seamlessly into a cover of Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’, which saw Matsson’s wife (The Tallest Woman on Earth?), Amanda Bergman take to the stage for a perfectly blended duet. As the hall got to its feet once more, the foolishly grinning couple issued more humble thank-yous.
There’s no disputing it; fans were left pining their star-crossed love for the selection of eligible musical brides. Scruffy Swedish dudes will do that to you.
Tagged acoustic, Amanda Bergman, Bob Dylan, Cover, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, folk, Golden Plains, Jetlag, Kristian Matsson, Live Music, Melbourne, Melbourne Recital Centre, MRC, Paul Simon, Scandinavia, Shallow Grave, Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird, Steinway, sweden, the Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt, There’s No Leaving Now, Woody Guthrie