Saturday, May 29, 2010
You Missed Out: Tallest Man on Earth
We've all cringed upon hearing an undergrad bro playing a Bob Dylan song on his acoustic guitar. He's closing his eyes, doing his best impression of 60s' Dylan with a fake nasally voice, and sometimes he even tries to play the harmonica. There are literally millions of these guys, at least a few hundred in every college town. But once in a great while, one of these guys actually does the Dylan thing properly. Instead of making listeners cringe, he captivates them.
Dylan got his start singing like Woody Guthrie, but came into his own when he started writing his own songs. Nearly 50 years after The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, comes the Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson. Matsson plays like Bob Dylan, but is much more than just another bro at the pub covering Blonde on Blonde. Just as Dylan before him, Matsson writes his own magnificent songs, which is why the crowds pay attention to him.
Kristian Matsson, the Tallest Man on Earth, silenced his sold out Chicago crowd with an acoustic guitar and a scraggly voice. No backup band or visual gimmicks. When the crowd cheered between songs, he termed the listeners as being "polite" for listening so intently as he played. But that wasn't exactly it. Matsson just took everyone's breath away. They couldn't have made a noise during his songs if they wanted to.
After about an hour of songs mostly from his excellent new album, The Wild Hunt, Matsson came out for an encore. First, a Bob Dylan song, "I'll Keep it With Mine". Then another, "The Man in Me". And they were two of the best Dylan covers you'll ever hear. He sang them with fervent emotion, and when they were over he even remarked, "Two Dylan songs, how about that? ...I love that guy."
As if everybody didn't know this after 10 seconds of hearing his opening song.
But then came the final song of the night on the final stop of his tour. It wasn't a Dylan song, but a bonus track off of his latest album called "Like the Wheel". It was quiet, powerful, and written by Matsson himself. The most beautiful moment of the night came then The starkest silence from audience as they realized he was actually building off of the greatness of Bob Dylan, rather than cheapening or detracting from it. The Tallest Man on Earth has skills stretching far beyond the guy at the local bar's open mic. It's an exciting thing to witness, especially when Matsson starts finger-picking. It's like he's incapable of mistake.
Matsson was so good, he even made the typically banal necessity of tuning his guitar between songs an enjoyable part of the show. He pretty much turned it into a John Fahey jam. It's not often a guy in his 20s' is able to captivate a large audience by standing alone on a stage. But the Tallest Man on Earth is something very special. Of course he isn't "the next Bob Dylan," because nobody can ever really be that. (Just as Dylan wasn't the "next Woody Guthrie.") But Matsson is able to play a song that someone might not be familiar with, and simply by virtue of his talent and intrigue, force them to listen.
The trick, most likely, is a combination of hard work and a sincere love for that work. One doesn't simply pick up a guitar with the ability to finger-pick like Kristian Matsson. But if a guy loves music enough, he'll work for days on end to play the songs.
Throughout the night, Matsson quipped about how tired he was. He couldn't believe that he was still standing after playing night after night of headlining concerts. But when he sang, he sure didn't sound tired. So much creative energy spilled out of the man that it fueled my spirits and I actually stayed up all night as a result. Usually, the guy singing Bob Dylan covers doesn't pull this off. But covering the greatest songwriter of all time isn't a matter of capability, it's about building on foundations. Kristian Matsson would be nothing without Bob Dylan, but he's fully aware of this fact. And this is just one of the reasons why he's worth listening to. I can't wait for what it'll sound like when Matsson "goes electric".