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The Tallest Man on Earth fires on all cylinders at Fox Theater Oakland

By Mike Frash //

The Tallest Man on Earth //
Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland
September 6th, 2012 //

Kristian Matsson’s powerful voice and legitimate swagger as The Tallest Man on Earth has earned him increased notoriety with every new album and tour. He released his third LP in June and has two memorable EPs under his belt. About half of his tunes at the Fox Theater ended with Matsson projecting his guitar pick across the stage, but he often attempted to arrange the picks into a neat pile. As he performs, he wanders around the stage to rile the audience, but when it’s time to sing, he approaches the microphone like a cobra poised to attack as he belts out his delivery. This bravado translates to the strength of his voice, and his deep baritone notes were spot-on all night. He missed a couple high notes or passed on them completely as he did during the first encore song “The Wild Hunt”. It didn’t matter to this crowd, which was either quietly taking it all in or singing along and applauding.

He’s Swedish, but he exudes pure Americana. His songwriting and vocal style is beyond Dylanesque, as he’s often compared to Bob Dylan, and rightfully so. He wears pointed-toe boots, skinny jeans and a sleeveless shirt that looks more greaser-nouveau than the typical apparel trends these days, and his look accentuates his Elvis-like moves. His stage banter is ever-present between songs, with what seems like a California accent. Between songs, he mumbles like a drunk cowboy; his speaking voice is so low in pitch. Matsson’s songwriting and album covers invoke thoughts of wide open spaces and traveling adventures in the tradition of Kerouac. His stage name is reminiscent of traditional American folklore like Paul Bunyan — and as Matsson’s drawing power increases with every tour, he could be adopted as an living legend stateside before too long.

As the Tallest Man on Earth continued his circuit across the U.S., he did not disappoint this night in Oakland. The first half of the show featured many tracks from Matsson’s 2012 album There’s No Leaving Now, but the first transcendent moment came during “Love is All”, as Matsson extended the song to pin-drop silence. After a couple songs, Matsson said he liked the Fox Theater, but also liked Rickshaw Stop and The Independent, which were the first two venues he performed at in the Bay Area.

Matsson is known for his guitar work, but his first song at the piano “There’s No Leaving Now” slowed it down and punched up the emotion. Upon finishing the first piano song, Matsson moved back to the guitar to rip into “Leading Me Now”. The songs contrasted nicely in style and songwriting, and they worked in succession because it felt like Matsson was telling a story. This pairing of songs from the new LP was particularly powerful. At the end of it, a man in the audience yelled “I love you!” to which Matsson responded, “You should take me on a date first!”

The Tallest Man on Earth then invited his friend Steven on stage to help with a handful of songs on trumpet, including “It Will Follow the Rain”, which Matsson said we probably haven’t heard live since Rickshaw Stop. The Tallest Man’s friend Steven from Sweden, who Matsson said he’s always admired, added a layer of depth that is sometimes lacking in Matsson’s songs, but not often.

The song that got the most attention from the crowd was “King of Spain”. The audience immediately began clapping along, then Matsson busted a string on his guitar. The Tallest Man skillfully extended the intro of the song with one hand to buy time, as he used his strumming hand to calmly move the broken string out of the way. The Tallest Man on Earth is one with his instrument. This inspired further cringe-inducing crowd banter, including “You’re my tallest man,” which got a quizzical head turn from Matsson.

Matsson saves his best songs for the encore. It began with an unfinished version of “The Wild Hunt”, as he segued it seamlessly into a successful version of Paul Simon’s “Graceland”. The night finished with “The Dreamer” from his 2010 EP Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird. The set passed quickly, which signifies that it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The Tallest Man on Earth has proved to be a top notch singer-songwriter live who is in full command of his stage presence and musical prowess.

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