Tallest Man on Earth in Brooklyn

Carter Shelter on October 16, 2017

It’s been a quiet year for Kristian Matsson, better known as The Tallest Man On Earth. The Swedish singer-songwriter has been largely off the stage since then completing touring for his 2015 album Dark Bird Is Home last year. Seeking to remedy that, or perhaps just growing antsy, Matsson announced a pair of shows at Brooklyn’s Pioneer Works that would see him team up with New York chamber music sextet yMusic, who have a number of similar collaborations under their belt with the likes of Paul Simon, Dirty Projectors, and José González.

Matsson may have arrived to the stage nearly 45 minutes after his scheduled start time, but any threat of ill will that he generated in that time quickly dissipated into the air as he and yMusic embarked on a captivating set that couldn’t help but bring a smile to the face of each and every person in the crowd. A finger to his lips was all Matsson needed to bring a hush over the crowd as yMusic crafted a gentle opening of strings and horns leading into “There’s No Leaving Now.” Leaving his guitar behind for the song, Matsson moved nimbly around the stage, looking out at the audience with loving eyes.

The setlist spanned Tallest Man On Earth’s catalog, and through it all yMusic’s accompaniment brought out new beauty in each track while sounding completely natural, as if that’s how these songs had always sounded. On tunes like “Revelation Blues” and “Rivers” the swelling trumpet, violin, and flute would weave around Matsson’s finger-picked guitar, evoking a fairytale country life in some place dotted with cottages, streams, and meadows rather than the crumbling asphalt and industrial machinery of Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Yet apparently, it’s in Red Hook, Brooklyn that Kristian Matsson has found himself. After one fan shouted out “Thanks for coming here!” Matsson responded saying, “I actually live here now, so this is like a hometown show but nobody knows I’m here,” (sorry for blowing up your spot, Kristian) and his joy at being there and gratitude for the audience was palpable throughout the show, and not just because he made a point to speak to it a number of times. At one point he gave a speech on how he views the current state of the world, stating, “I think we’re at a point where everyone just really needs to do shit” before calling for a collective embrace of love and empathy and smoothly seguing into a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”

All of it only served to make his performance more endearing, as he opened his heart to the audience both in song and speech. He gave yMusic a break in the middle of the set to perform two songs solo, “I Won’t Be Found,” the opening track on his first album, and a yet-to-be-titled new song, joking between the two, “I wrote that last one in the woods in 2007 and I wrote this next one down the street a week ago. I don’t think I’ve changed too much since then.” He also gave the stage to yMusic twice to perform original songs of their own, “Eleven” and “Music in Circles, Pt. 2,” both of which proved to be jaw dropping pieces of orchestration.

The show packed intimate moments in by the dozen, from Matsson looking to the audience to remind him of the lyrics to one of his own songs to the choked up crack in his voice at the hand of each group singalong. It’s tempting to say that this collaboration shouldn’t be resigned to just two shows in one city, given the dimensions that yMusic’s orchestrations brought out, but the show’s magic arrived as much from its context as its music and that’s something that couldn’t be replicated.