The Tallest Man On Earth At The Music Box
As he played through “A Field of Birds” and “Burden of Tomorrow,” the first two of his Tuesday night set at the Music Box, one could spot how features of the folk singer’s stage presence – his ever-creasing forehead, his expressive eyes, his use of silence, his willingness to run around the stage a bit, his comic timing – let him engage the audience.
A lone singer-songwriter with a guitar faces basically the same challenges as a standup comedian. Though they, of all performers, have the most control over their shows and material, they also must use similar skills to keep their audiences entertained.
The scratchily voiced 27-year-old Swedish folkie embodied the persona of a traveling troubadour with his scraggly facial hair, scarecrow figure, and his repartee with the crowd. Though most of his songs have a similar soft seriousness to them and his lyrics tend to use oblique imagery and frequent references to birds, trees, orchards, rivers, gardens, glaciers, etc., Matsson seemed to enjoy joking around with audience, pausing during “I Won’t Be Found” to cast his eyes over the mezzanine and comment, “There’s a lot of people here.”
When during the lonely finger-picked opening passages of “Love is All” a woman shouted in excitement, he responded, “It’s not that kind of song.” Yes, he hammed it up, but modesty does not entertain.
It took some swagger to carry him through the many tuning sessions. Before “Where Do My Bluebird Fly” – which apparently involves some ridiculously complicated open tuning on the level of Sonic Youth – he kept a steady pulse of bass notes going while twisting the tuning keys to the desired pitches. The act of tuning became a sort of bonus track. Let’s see Gibson’s Robot Guitar do that.
The many selections from his two LPs, “Shallow Grave” and 2010’s “The Wild Hunt,” garnered enthusiastic responses, but he also played selections from his new EP “Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird,” which is set to drop Nov. 9.
The latest material does not bring much new in terms of style. His jealousy-inducing Travis-picking technique, in which the thumb plays alternating bass notes while the fingers pluck arpeggios, melodies and banjo rolls, still forms the basis of most of his riffs. “Like the Wheel,” though, is quiet and sad even by Tallest Man on Earth standards, with lines like, “Oh my lord, why am I not strong like the branch that keeps hangmen hanging on – like the branch that will take me home.”
“The Dreamer,” on the other hand, found him uncharacteristically strumming bar chords on a red electric guitar. It wasn’t like Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival or anything, but it suggested The Tallest Man on Earth won’t be stuck in a rut.
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