Last Tuesday evening, fans of the The Tallest Man On Earth packed The Wiltern to not only celebrate the release of the artist’s third studio album, There’s No Leaving Now, but to see the talented, mysterious Kristian Matsson bring his emotionally haunting folk songs to life.
Matsson knew he had the crowd hanging on his every word from the start as the lights switched off. The room was buzzing as spotlights illuminated a sole wooden chair, and Matsson walked onstage to already thunderous applause. The gravely-voiced folk singer opened with “To Just Grow Away” followed by the beautifully emotive “Love Is All,” and proceeded to hold the audience on the edge of their seats through the evening.
Matsson has a flair for musical dramatics and performed with the intimacy of a small club show, pulling the audience in by whispering lyrics then quickly shifting dynamics with loud, vocal acrobatics. He often walked away from the microphone during breaks in singing to play guitar, doubled over his instrument, immersed in the song as he hovered above the ground. It was incredible how one man and his guitar could fill up the cavernous, crowded Wiltern, but Matsson made it look effortless.
He told the crowd, “This is a special day for me. I get to release a record, and I get to play for you. My new songs are hard, so I’m going to sit down to play them,” and began “1904” and “Leading Me Now.” The audience would burst into applause at the recognition of each opening guitar riff, exploding into cheers at the beginning of “The Gardner.”
The silences between songs were typically filled with a simple “Thank you.” The impressive guitar work, obvious folk influences, and minimal banter made me flash back to when I saw Bob Dylan perform in D.C. years ago. The similarities between Matsson and the legendary Dylan were uncanny: incredible talent, gifted songwriting, and introspection that runs so deep there is no need to entertain the crowd between songs. Humor snuck its way into Matsson’s set however; everything he said was so deadpan and awkwardly charming that the audience laughed or applauded at even the slightest joke.
The crowd chuckled when the man known for playing guitar sat at the piano as they got rare glimpses of the fascinating singer as he confessed being nervous before the show, particularly to play a different instrument. There was no lack of confidence, however, as he played the heartrendingly beautiful ballad “There’s No Leaving Now.”
He explained that “Where Do My Bluebirds Fly” was a song written when he “was pissed off,” and “King Of Spain” inspired the crowd to clap along. “On Every Page” merited a lengthy, standing ovation from the audience before Matsson returned to perform an encore of “The Dreamer” and “Thrown Right At Me.” Fans demonstrated a profound love and appreciation for Matsson’s music, and as the applause from his second standing ovation died down, you knew everyone was heading home to listen to There’s No Leaving Now to recapture the incredible energy and beautiful music Matsson presented that night.
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