grating set by Nurses, Kristian Matsson – aka The Tallest Man On Earth – showed
a sold-out April 23 crowd at hipster venue the Black Cat how things get done.
Screaming fangirls not optional.
By Roxana Hadadi / Photos By Adam Fried
The Internet is a peculiar thing. About 10 months
ago, when The Tallest Man on Earth a.k.a. Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian
Matsson opened for John Vanderslice at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C.,
barely a fraction of the already small audience (about one-third of the venue’s
700-person capacity) had any idea who Matsson was. In fact, the Black Cat
itself got the artist’s name wrong on a sign outside – calling him “The Tallest
Man in the World” – until someone pointed out the mistake and it was hastily
corrected with handwritten marker.
And sure, Matsson had a few screaming fangirls in
attendance, but for the most part, people were there for Vanderslice – and the
blueberry pie he was handing out to the audience was definitely an added bonus.
But on Friday, April 23, the Black Cat was mysteriously packed
– sold out, even – just for little ol’ Matsson (that was literal, because, you
know … he’s short). Maybe it had to do with his latest album, “The Wild Hunt,”
which came out earlier this month, or maybe it was because of his MySpace
profile, which has gathered hundreds of thousands of listens on some tracks.
Either way, the venue was overrun with Tallest Man on Earth fans jonesing for
the singer-songwriter’s mesh of old-school Americana and bluesy folk.
They weren’t alone, though – the crowd was also mixed with
pastel-wearing, Teva-donning upper-middle class yuppies who made it seem like
Georgetown had vomited all over the little club on 14th Street. And
those paunchy suburbanites cared a whole lot more about the Black Cat’s drinks
than Matsson’s songs, leading to a few uncomfortable instances where the
singer’s emotionally wrenching ballads were interrupted by far-too-loud lushes.
Keep it classy, D.C.
The night began with an opening set from Portland band Nurses, whose heavy use of
synthesizers and drum machines got real old, real quick. During their 45 or so
minutes, more than a few girls swayed and gyrated back and forth to the band’s
droning, Animal Collective-like songs – but they all seemed to be wearing some
variation of an outfit including cut-off denim shorts, tights and boots (new
D.C. hipster uniform, apparently), so what do they know?
Yet when Matsson took the stage, it was those same girls
that fueled much of the maniacal shrieking that met him. And during his 12-song
set, which drew heavily from his 2008 album, “Shallow Grave,” and “The Wild
Hunt,” Matsson did a lot to encourage their wide-eyed fanaticism: Much like his
performance last year, there were lots of stares off into the distance; leaning
over the edge of the stage into people’s faces; and sheepish facial
expressions, as Matsson seemed genuinely surprised by the dedication of the
crowd. That modesty seemed most evident on some of the crowd’s most favorite
tracks, like “The Gardener” and “Pistol Dreams” from “Shallow Grave,” when
Matsson let the crowd take over singing duties as he strolled around the stage,
ducking into shadows.
Metaphorical? Maybe. But Matsson still delivered. He started
things by immediately launching into the title track from “The Wild Hunt,”
which introduced listeners to the fractured English, but simplistic beauty, of
his lyrics: “I left my heart to the wild hunt a-comin/ I live until the call/
And I plan to be forgotten, when I’m gone/ Yes, I’ll be leavin’ in the fall.”
Similarly inquisitive about the nature of life and salvation was the next
track, “Thousand Ways,” in which Matsson half-mused, half-snarled, “I have lived
for ages, I’m a thousand turns of tides/ I’m a thousand wakes of springtime,
and a thousand infant cries … But I’ll always be blamed for the sun going down
with us all/ But I’m the light in the middle of every man’s fall.” A little
spiritual, a little metaphysical … Matsson does it all.
And of course, the man was overwhelmingly gracious,
numerously thanking the crowd – “I’m so happy to be back here,” he stammered
out before “Thousand Ways”
– while also singling out his manager Niclas Stenholm, whom he invited onstage.
Really, the only time Matsson even bordered on rude was when he shushed the
crowd to announce his gratitude for Stenholm. Be quiet, people! A bromance is
But no one was going to quiet down, not even when Matsson
littered his setlist with seriously somber picks like “Where Do My Bluebird
Fly” and “You’re Going Back” from “The Wild Hunt,” which elicited many off-key,
impassioned sing-alongs (especially during the line “You’re just a target in
the sky” from the former song). And when he struck up the intro for the set’s
closer “King of Spain,” it was like he had just handed out his cell phone
number or announced he was opening up a free kissing booth after the show:
Girls squealed, friends clung to each other, spasms of glee abounded – and,
expectedly, Matsson blushed. What else is new?