The ubiquitous and appropriate comparisons to Bob Dylan notwithstanding, Kristian Matsson has recorded a pair of truly fine albums under the name The Tallest Man on Earth. The Swedish singer-guitarist played the greater parts of Shallow Grave from 2008 and this year’s The Wild Hunt for a sold out audience last Monday at Kilby Court. Although you might not guess from his songwriting, Matsson is quite the presence on stage. Particularly as he would open and close songs, the TMOE prowls the stage, sits and stands melodramatically, climbs sound equipment, and pumps his guitar to elongate a closing flourish.
Matsson is a songwriter first, a (really extraordinary) guitarist second, and a singer third. Certainly it is the first two qualities that set him apart, and they were both on fine display amid mischievous banter with the crowd. The performance possessed biting urgency but seemed at the same time effortless, making the Freewheelin’ comparisons apt. Mattson rolled (sorry) through “I Won’t Be Found,” “Pistol Dreams,” “The Gardener” and most of the rest of Shallow Grave and from The Wild Hunt: “Burden of Tomorrow,”Troubles Will Be Gone,” “King of Spain,” and the title track. He spared us from what I personally found Wild Hunt’s ill-conceived Tom Petty tribute, “Kids on the Run.”
As though the stage antics and a guarded allusion to “the prettiest girl in the world” who flew into Salt Lake to meet him that day weren’t charming enough, Matsson performed the last song of his encore in absolute silence. Shutting down Kilby’s fans, the hum from the sound system, and climbing on a stage speaker one last time, the TMOE played a raptuous version of “Like the Wheel” so close to me I could smell the cigarettes on his breath. Kilby was achingly quiet and the song and its lyrics were enough to make you teary-eyed.
The Wild Hunt is easy to find, Shallow Grave less so, but find yourself a copy of both for a real lesson in the American folk tradition from the farthest reaches of Sweden!