The Tallest Man on Earth, HMV Forum, London

 

Interpretative dance and Swedish folk music aren’t mutually exclusive concepts, but nor do the twain often meet. But when Kristian Matsson - The Tallest Man on Earth -  plays live the two *almost* collide like cultural proton beams.

Matsson, who sounds like a young Bob Dylan doing an impression of Self Portrait-era Dylan and looks like he ought to be modelling creased shirts for H&M, needles around the stage of the Forum in a skin-tight black vest and equally familiar jeans looking for all the world like he’s testing out a new one-man production of Swan Lake.

He bends and he twists around his guitars; at one point he’s so crooked that it’s hard to tell if his guitar is being held up by a strap of a crevice between his ribs and his thigh. It’s quite a performance. It probably has to be too, since it’s just him out there.

Matsson’s work over three albums focuses on often beautiful, if not intense, finger-picked folk songs often with rambling, leisurely narratives. They’re solitary but warm. On the same hymn sheet  as his one-time touring partner Bon Iver, but transposed to a major key.

Matsson has bemoaned constant Dylan comparisons, but if you’re going to call songs  things like “Revelation Blues” you’re not going to get away from them.

Like early Dylan, Matsson’s smart use of his guitar – building up rhythms with muted strums – helps him fill up a space that ought to be too big for all but the most intimidating artists. It’s just him, a chair, a guitar and an electric piano. But he does a decent job of it, though you sometimes you can’t help but wish for a band to help him out. 

His tools are comprised mainly of tracks from 2012’s There’s No Leaving Now such as the strolling jaunt of “Wind and Walls” but an unlikely fervour comes only with “The King of Spain” the best track on 2010’s The Wild Hunt sees Matsson roar growls into the vowels of the words “Barcelona” and “Pamplona”.

It’s good stuff, but highlights other slightly flatlining elements of the rest of the show. There’s also a funny moment when Matsson ticks off a fellow Swede who’s shouted something out: “"Don't shout out my home town when I'm trying to talk about Francis [the support band] - we're in England now!"

In the encore another influence is wielded as “The Wild Hunt”, is bled into Paul Simon’s Graceland to honks of recognition in the crowd, who seem to love every movement he makes. The Swede might lack backing, but he clearly backs himself.

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