LIVE: The Tallest Man on Earth @ The Egg, 7/3/2016
Review by Steven Stock
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk, Timothy Reidy
There were a few empty seats at the top and sides of the Hart Theatre, but just about everyone who made it to The Egg on the first Sunday in July loved The Tallest Man on Earth and especially irrepressible five-foot-seven frontman Kristian Mattson.
Mattson pranced onstage like a leprechaun who just escaped confinement from a box of Lucky Charms – never mind that he hails from Sweden rather than Ireland.
Over the past decade Mattson’s music has steadily grown in scope and ambition. Beginning in 2006 as an acoustic troubadour in the early-Dylan mode, Mattson first employed electric guitar on 2010’s Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird EP. Last year’s Dark Bird Is Home (the dude does like his birds!) benefited from an impressively orchestrated vision, as Mattson’s palette now includes vivid splashes of harmony vocals, brass and other studio embellishments.
The band was impressive throughout, and remarkably versatile as well. When Mike Noyce (who previously worked with Bon Iver) switched from guitar to violin and Ben Lester from keyboards to pedal steel, The Tallest Man on Earth conjured an appealing high lonesome sound that effectively underscored Mattson’s sometimes mournful lyrics (spurred perhaps by a recent divorce). Leprechauns are hard to find, but Zach Hanson was an even rarer mythological creature: a drummer who refused to overplay.
The songs are impeccably crafted – Mattson has clearly studied and mastered all the mechanics of deploying verse/chorus/bridge, sometimes fulfilling our expectations,
every once in a while playfully subverting them. Yet I somehow didn’t enjoy this performance as much as everyone else in the building. The audience was in Rapture, and I was Left Behind.
Too often Mattson’s songs revealed more craft than inspiration, weighed down by ponderous lyrics. Mattson clearly has good taste, he’s worked hard and he uses what he’s learned to build good songs. He’s the IKEA of folk-rock. I also found his self-presentation cloying and contrived, although again it must be mentioned that everyone else adored his every move as he gamboled and cavorted across the stage.
Mattson in turn called the audience “sweet people” on three different occasions. If Dana Carvey’s Enid Strict (aka the Church Lady) was reviewing this show, three words would suffice: “Isn’t that precious?”
Opener Lady Lamb was riveting, commanding the Hart Theatre stage with just guitar and voice. Aly Spaltro grew up in Maine and then moved to Brooklyn. She’s hip but no mere hipster. Her songs are compelling, a trifle dark, a tad twisted, and her guitar playing is incredibly expressive. Spaltro’s idiosyncratic vision and fondness for unexpected tempo changes are sometimes reminiscent of Scout Niblett. Definitely a performer to keep an eye on…
THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH SET LIST
Wind and Walls
Fields of Our Home
Burden of Tomorrow
The Wild Hunt
Darkness of the Dream
Love Is All
I Won’t Be Found
Time of the Blue
Little Nowhere Towns
Where Do My Bluebird Fly
King of Spain
Dark Bird Is Home
Like the Wheel