“I don’t want to take this for granted,” Kristian Matsson of The Tallest Man On Earth says just before slipping into “Dark Bird is Home,” the title track to his new record. Instead of it just being a small token of appreciation to Saturday’s adoring crowd at Tower Theater, the statement seemed to ground all the light feelings emitting from the stage; almost as if Matsson suddenly realized that the moment was fleeting and he might not have another chance to show his genuine gratitude. Fitting for a performance of his most recent release.
Dark Bird Is Home adheres to the same stunning lyricism and impeccable guitar Matsson has become known for. However, this album seems to stumble into a melancholic territory we don’t hear in Tallest Man’s previous albums. “It was a pretty intense part of my life,” he tells Spin about his divorce from singer-songwriter Amanda Bergman (better known as Idiot Wind). “I wrote these songs while there were wars going on, and horrible things that are very real, but this is something that so many people have to go through so I let myself do this.”
But those feelings seemed to be a distant thought when it came to last night’s spry performance.
The evening had a soulful start with Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear, a soul-folk pair hailing from Kansas City. Showcasing songs from their upcoming album Skeleton Crew (out today), the mother/son duo played a well-accepted set worthy of a standing ovation. Recently the two broke out of their coffeehouse routine with a performance on Letterman and a profile on CBS Sunday Morning, as well as an appearance at NonCOMM that you can check out here.
The first time I saw Tallest Man was in Philly in 2010. It was my very first concert, and I never heard of the guy before; I went with a group of friends. It was definitely early in his career as well. A guy with a guitar, a stool, and a mic, nothing much. But when he started plucking melodies and harmonies very reminiscent of Elliott Smith, everyone in the room fell silent. The performance was far from perfect. Kristian Matsson was a timid performer; his guitar cord fell out – he apologized, he had to retune his guitar – he apologized, if I remember correctly a guitar string broke – and he apologized. I don’t think I saw him look the crowd in the eye, and his demeanor was shifty; like he was completely outside of his comfort zone. But his unconventional voice filled the room. And that’s all that mattered. I was instantly hooked.
Fast forward a few albums, a couple of tours, and an overflowing handful of life experiences, and that timid singer-songwriter is gone. The line “I left a nervous little boy out on the trail today” kept playing in my head as I watched his confident demeanor.
Matsson jumped onto the stage and walked around looking the crowd in the eyes, like a matador staring down his opponent, before starting off with “Fields of Our Home.” Having a band tour with him for the first time ever, Matsson tells Spin “I think subconsciously I’ve been longing for it for a while because venues kept growing.” To be honest, I was nervous that the band was going to take away from Tallest Man. But instead they kept to the background, providing a new dimension to the complex melodies and expanding the sound to fill the entire theater.
Light on his toes, Matsson jumped across the stage with sprightly vigor and showed off his balance by lifting one leg or the other. The lineup was all over his discography’s spectrum. Some, like “The Gardener” and “Lion’s Heart,” were performed solo. Other songs, like “Slow Dance” and “Beginners” had the band behind him. The beautiful “Timothy” included a shoutout to Tim Showalter of Strand Of Oaks; Matsson said “this song is about a dude from here in Philly.” (Listen below, via PhilaTaper.)
The evening ended with the crowd standing for a two song encore. Just when you thought “Like the Wheel” could not get any more beautiful, it was adorned with a haunting four-part harmony that pierced through your chest.
Dark Bird Is Home is now out and can be ordered here. Reminisce about the show with the setlist and photo gallery below.
Fields of Our Home
Darkness of the Dream
Love is All
Leading Me Now
Winds and Walls
Little Nowhere Towns
Where Do My Bluebirds Fly
Dark Bird is Home
Like the Wheel
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