“I played in Louisville before. It’s been five years.” Kristian Matsson, The Tallest Man on Earth, said after playing opening song “King of Spain” for an enthusiastic audience at Headliners Music Hall. TTMOE has played hundred of shows all over the world since then, but that concert seems to have stuck with Matsson, who referenced it four other times throughout the night.
That show, part of Bon Iver’s tour in support of their breakthrough album For Emma, Forever Ago, was the first time I heard TTMOE, and I was struck by Matsson’s deft musicianship and arresting stage presence. Justin Vernon commented about Matsson that night, “he’s going to be huge.” Three albums and several sold-out tours later, it’s safe to say that Vernon was right.
TTMOE was largely unknown when he opened for Bon Iver, and had to put up with a loud, unruly crowd. At times Matsson hushed the crowd, particularly before playing, “Where Do My Bluebird Fly.”
“When I played here before I thought this song was pretty good.” Matsson said. “I was kind of a dick about it… I’ve tried not to be one since then.”
Unfortunately, Matsson still had to put up with a number of the rowdy denizens all too common at Headliners. As Matsson switched to the Rhodes, one jester shouted, “Play ‘Dancing Queen’!” After faking a few bars, a bemused Matsson scowled, “I may be from Sweden but I don’t know that song. I didn’t think that’s what I was here for.”
Throughout the evening Matsson was in rare form, often ad-libbing or rephrasing lyrics in a manner that invites even more comparisons to Dylan. However, his exaggerated facial expressions were evocative of a medieval minstrel, singing ballads in some dark tavern. For me, this shows that in contrast to the prevalent singer/songwriter-as-tortured-artist motif, Matsson is the consummate performer. Although his songs are intricate works of art, he never forgets he is a musician entertaining an audience. Before launching into a guitar rendition of “Like the Wheel”, Matsson told the sold-out crowd, “This song is about how I need you.” Judging by the gusto the crowd sang along with the impossible number of “your eyes, babe” at the end of “The Gardner”, that goes two ways.
If my only disappointment at Vicar St. was that he didn’t play “Thousand Ways”, at Headliners it was “Little Brother”, my favorite track from 2012’s There’s No Leaving Now. However any disappointment was quickly eclipsed by the encore set, which began with the very track I missed in Dublin. Before playing the title track from 2010’s The Wild Hunt, Matsson swore, “I promise I won’t wait five years before coming back.”
To our delight, “The Wild Hunt” seamlessly turned into Matsson’s cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” Julie and I sang along as loud as we could. An fitting ending for a wonderful concert.
King of Spain
Love is All
To Just Grow Away
I Won’t Be Found
No Leaving Now
Leading Me Now
Where Do My Bluebird Fly
Burden of Tomorrow
Like the Wheel
Wind and Walls
The Wild Hunt
Graceland (Paul Simon cover)