Kristian Matsson aka The Tallest Man on Earth makes Edinburgh’s Usher Hall buzz with his fully-charged energy levels lasting until the very end.
Buffalo-born singer-songwriter Julie Byrne opened the night with some delicate fingerpicking à la Nick Drake paired with her deep, husky siren’s voice. There is a quiet but magnetic reassurance in Byrne’s music, which would feel at home in the golden hours before sunrise or just after sunset – a unique performer you should watch out for.
Matsson’s arrival on stage immediately flips the switch: with his trademark croaky roar and prancing gimmickry, the Swedish modern-day minstrel feels like a one-man avalanche able to make the entire space his oyster. Defying old school sit-down folk tradition, Matsson’s performance is very physical: he scampers, slides and jumps around x-legged with gusto, brandishing his guitar or banjo like a cross between Dylan and a grasshopper. Together with his theatrical facial expressions and drawn-out dramatic breaks, this jester persona wears down with constant repetition and soon just feels repetitive. It doesn’t really help that the wooden box light installations on stage, which beam or ooze light rhythmically, remind of an X-Factor performance.
The set is a motley collection of past songs, including audience favourites like A Lion’s Heart and The Gardener, and numbers from his 5th album I Love You. It’s A Fever Dream. (released this year). Matsson’s song writing does what it does best – entertaining with tales of, as he terms it, ‘travelling the fever road’, relationship issues and countryside escapism. This is all nice and cosy, but although the lyrics in newer pieces like What I’ve Been Kicking Around or I’ll Be A Sky have a more contemplative, storm-weathered touch, the arrangements smack of stagnation and it sometimes feels like you’re listening to one continuous song for two hours.
That doesn’t stop Matsson from having a great time: like a kid on a playground, there is a lot of genuine joy and sweat in his performance that gives the last fault-finder a warm nudge. Matsson turns people from listeners to interlocutors: egged on by someone in the crowd, he initiates a surprising a-cappella version of The Moonshiner, a folk classic performed in the past by Bob Dylan, Cat Power and Elliott Smith among others. For his 2019’s I’m A Stranger Now, he coaxes the crowd to chant the song’s title as he descends into the pit with his guitar raised like a scythe.
I Love You. It’s A Fever Dream. is out now via AWAL Recordings.