Tallest Man on Earth @ Town Hall

There’s little doubt that Kristian Matsson, better known as the Tallest Man on Earth, felt slightly out of place at Town Hall on Wednesday. At one point, after an inter-song “I love you!” cry from a fan, he mumbled back something along the lines of “I love you too New York. You’re big and scary, but I love you.” After all, Times Square, with its multi-million dollar digital Diet Coke billboards and dollar-for-a-picture Elmos, is an ocean from Matsson’s native Sweden, and at least an universe from the images of sunsets, rivers and meadows he conjures in his lyrics. But as timid as he sometimes appeared between songs, as a performer Matsson lived up to his moniker, commanding the audience with only his croaking, gravel-toned voice and a wall of instruments - three acoustic guitars, two electrics and a piano, to be exact – that he traded off throughout the night.

Predictably, the set was packed with songs from his superb, weeks-old record There’s No Leaving Now. With sparse layered use of electric backing guitars, woodwinds, and percussion, the album represents a humble step away from the his first two – 2008′s Shallow Grave and 2010′s The Wild Hunt – where most of the tracks sound like single-takes recorded on a rainy afternoon. But live, the new material blended perfectly with the Tallest Man’s considerable back catalogue. On “Wind and Walls,” a bouncy acoustic tune that leaps into a melancholic chorus, he climbed to the edges of his vocal range in a beautifully raw full voice. ”Little Brother,” with its deft hooks and skillful finger plucks, was as melodically spit-shined as any song in the set.

Throughout the night, Matsson’s slickly self-aware stage presence kept the show from feeling like a one-note affair. He stood for most the set, creeping around the stage with exaggerated paces, making direct eye contact with audience members, and occasionally flopping onto a chair and jumping back up. During an electric rendition of “Where Do My Bluebirds Fly?” he playfully tipped his guitar in annoyance at a flashlight-wielding attendant policing the crowd for cameras. On “The King of Spain” he bellowed the song’s title during the final chorus, climatically lingering on “theeeeee” long enough to lap up applause and cheers like a pro.

While Matsson controlled the crowd beautifully, at stripped-down, intimate live shows, there’s almost always going to be ‘that guy’ in the audience. Unfortunately, on Wednesday, it was less ‘that guy’ and more ‘those guys’ – someone who repeatedly yelled for “Freebird” (fresh!), and a pair of gents who screamed “Ridiculous!” during the closing bars of almost every song, at one point prompting a yelling match with fellow fans. (Side note: Don’t be that guy.) But after Matsson closed the encore with a duet version of “Thrown Right At Me” sung with his wife Amanda Bergman, the crowd was in complete agreement as they stood for their second standing ovation of the night: The Tallest Man on Earth is a guy-with-a-guitar act absolutely worthy of a sold out two-night stand in the heart of a big, scary city.

words by Adam D’Arpino

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  4. The National @ The Beacon Theatre
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