The stage at Lincoln Hall looked unusually bare Friday night (May 28) just before the Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson, who calls himself the Tallest Man on Earth, came out to perform. Clearly, this was going to be a solo show. Most of the usual amps and drum kits and equipment were absent, leaving a wide open space for Matsson to roam around during his set. A few guitars off to one side. An amp with some effects pedals on the other side of the stage. Microphone in the middle. A chair sitting at the far back part of the stage, many feet away from the microphone.
And sure enough, when Matsson performed, he did roam the stage. For a guy who performs Dylanesque folk music with an acoustic guitar, the Tallest Man on Earth is an oddly energetic, almost hyper guy, moving around a lot whenever he isn’t singing into the mike. He strutted around and crouched down as he plucked some intricate patterns on his guitar strings. Sometimes he went back to that chair and sat down for a minute. He often walked out toward the audience, leaning toward his fans. And they loved it.
Matsson’s songs sound a lot like Bob Dylan’s early acoustic music, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Tallest Man on Earth might not be breaking any new ground as far as developing an original musical style, but that classic style of Dylanesque folk music is still a great template, with endless possibilities for new words, melodies and arrangements, so why not continue exploring it?
The latest album by the Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt, is a strong collection of songs from beginning to end, and Matsson played most of them on Friday, along with a selection from his earlier records — and, no surprise, some Dylan covers in the encore, including a nice a cappella version of “The Man in Me” with opening act Nathaniel Rateliff and his band joining in.
The Tallest Man on Earth was wrapping up his U.S. tour last week, getting ready for a time home to Sweden. His next local appearance will be at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Matsson, who seemed genuinely appreciative of the warm reception he got from the Chicago crowd, said he plans to rest up before his return visit to Chicago. “I’m going to sleep until I get to Pitchfork,” he said.