AUSTIN, Texas – After a lovely afternoon perusing the vibrant clothing racks of Buffalo Exchange and eating a scrumptious mushroom quiche from Mother’s Cafe & Garden, a vegetarian restaurant, my friend Grace and I took our vegan Chocolate Mocha Torte and blueberry pie to go, making our way to Antone’s Nightclub on 6th Street in Austin, Texas. When we arrived to the venue, a decent sized line snaked around the side of the building with folks shouting questions from their cars about who it was we were all waiting to see. Various college-aged looking kids with hipster glasses and granola thermals yelled back, “THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH!” We were all visibly stoked to see the little known folk hero.
Bon Iver drummer Sean Carey opened the evening with his own band, S. Carey. Their gentle, Local Natives-esque harmonies felt somewhat out of place among the talkative Antone’s crowd, yet Carey’s own sweet falsetto floated over the clashing, melodic instrumentals. His band-mates were all excellent musicians, especially the bassist who pounded his bass with a passion. When he closed his eyes you could feel every note created from his fingers. However, the set as a whole was dull and I found myself glad that it was so brief. Every song sounded like it was cut from the same pattern: a slow build, expansive, wispy singing, and then a breakdown to end it all. The only interesting part of their short set was when the bassist and Carey went cuckoo for long seconds (minutes?), ripping at the strings and banging on the low tom, both sticks slamming on the drum skin.
I have heard that their album All We Go is an impressive showcase of cinematic ambiance, and even if I didn’t love them live in a nightclub, I am not against the idea of giving S. Carey another listen on a listless, placid day.
After S. Carey stripped down, an older man with an enormous belly walked on stage. To my surprise and confusion, the man pushed up his glasses and began to read an original poem about dew and a praying mantis. It was incredibly bizarre, and I was relieved when the moment was over and he left the club. It was uncomfortable seeing a possibly unstable man recite poetry to a buzzy crowd, but what can one say? It’s Austin and they keep it weird.
Finally, after my feet began to ache in my boots, a small man leapt up onto the stage like a little, nimble, Swedish elf. Kristian Matsson, handsome in a James Dean fashion, simply walked across the stage making the crowd go wild and he bashfully grinned at the whistles and hollers. While tuning one of his four guitars, he moved from left to right looking out into the sold out mass, gazing into bright eyes with a perplexed, open-mouthed stare. He muttered self deprecating jokes into the microphone eliciting chuckles before suddenly transforming into his hyperbolic moniker: The Tallest Man on Earth.
His songs speak of murder, dreamers, nature and love with a voice that elicits endless comparisons to Bob Dylan. He is a poet and vandal. The Tallest Man on Earth’s presence takes up the entire stage with his incredible finger-picking guitar work anchoring the attention of anyone within hearing distance.
On that Saturday night, Matsson was in top form. He blazed through well loved tunes, and slipped easily into newer material that almost every fan could already mouth the words to. There were sing-a-long gems such as “I Won’t Be Found”, “King of Spain”, and “The Gardner”–which upon closer reading reveals a dark message, and soul-quenching ballads such as “You’re Going Back” where a single profanity cut through the air with a strangled pain.He performed “Where Do My Bluebirds Fly?” the best that I’ve ever heard it, but the darn sweetest moment was when Matsson’s fiancee, Amanda Bergman (aka Jaw Lesson), accompanied him on stage for a duet of “Thrown Right at Me” where, for the duration of the song, Matsson’s attention was completely focused on his woman.
The night came to a close after a double song encore with a feeling of communal adoration all around. It was sad to see The Tallest Man On Earth walk off the stage knowing he’d have to go around the world before he could come back to Austin, Texas for another show.
But I’ll be waiting.