Tuesday, June 19h at Town Hall, Manhattan
It’s always Dylan Dylan Dylan. The troubadour look, the lyrics steeped in Americana, and most especially, the grating, irresistible gravelly voice. But while the Tallest Man on Earth may wear his boots of Spanish leather with pride, as he strode out onstage, I couldn’t help but think Mangum.
The similarities between the Mangum and Matsson concerts I’ve seen are nearly eerie: an intimate venue with soft velvet seats, an audience of adoring and awe-struck fans, a circle of guitars awaiting the next song. Most striking is both Mangum’s and Matsson’s ability to fill the stage without backing musicians. But whereas Mangum preferred a more relaxed approach, never getting up off his seat, Matsson often bounded across the stage, a sprightly elf playing beautiful music.
His commanding stage presence was obvious the moment he walked on to thunderous applause: the crowd fell into a reverent silence from the first note of “To Just Grow Away,” and stayed that way, never growing restless despite the numerous tuning breaks. Matsson didn’t seem in a particularly happy nor loquacious mood, always a danger when a performer is the sole focus of attention, but he made his spare words count. He thanked the audience for our patience in waiting for him to tune and kept repeating how, really, his songs are all about the same thing. His dour humor shone through as well, saying how he still has trouble playing “Where Do My Bluebirds Fly.”
The setlist focused heavily on new songs from There’s No Leaving Now, with the standout “1904” and piano-driven “There’s No Leaving Now” getting great applause despite not being as entrenched in the Tallest Man ouevre as anything from his previous albums. Still, the performance did not feel overwhelmingly full with new material. He played highlights from earlier in his career, including “I Won’t Be Found” and “The Gardener” from Shallow Grave and the heartbreaking finger-picked “Love Is All” and the matador-meets-troubador singalong “King of Spain” off The Wild Hunt. He played this last song with a desperate vigor, giving a new dimension to his finest song. By holding onto notes (“I wanna be thaaaaaaa”) and changing the emphasis on certain phrasings (“just cos I stole some eagles’ wing”), Matsson emphasized his ownership over the song, singing the way he wanted to which only added to the raw emotion in the lyrics.
His encore consisted of two songs off the Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird EP, including a duet with his wife Amanda Bergman on “Thrown Right At Me.” The marriage of Bergman’s dulcet tones with Matsson’s caustic voice created a tender love song, reflecting the duality of the career the Tallest Man on Earth has made for himself: sweet yet scornful, nomadic yet steeped with a sense of place, obscure yet accessible. Mangum and Dylan.