The Tallest Man on Earth @The Albert Hall, Manchester (09/11/2019)

Putting an end to his five-date tour throughout the UK, The Tallest Man on Earth crammed himself and his huge live show into Manchester’s grand Albert Hall. His head didn’t quite reach the ceiling but his performance certainly raised the roof. Sturdily supporting the swift Swede was American singer, songwriter and guitarist, Julie Byrne.

As the Albert Hall gradually filled and stirred with eager gig goers, Julie Byrne performed patiently and humbly. This was a performance that deserved every ounce of focus from the crowd but, despite having paid good money to come out and listen to beautiful music – there’s people who feel the need to talk and leak noise about literally anything other than what’s happening right in front of them. Nonetheless, Byrne outstandingly performed a selection of songs from her two albums, Rooms With Walls and Windows and Not Even Happiness. The poetic ‘Natural Blue’ and ‘Sea as It Glides’ soothed the sound waves carried by the grand acoustics of the hall. The songs are so relaxing and sombre, they’re almost meditative. They blossom and evolve as Byrne takes just a handful of chords and creates depth through seamless vocal exploration and skilful handy work on the guitar. Byrne’s cover of Nico’s ‘These Days’ did the original justice. It was perfectly suited to the brooding nature of Byrne’s tone. ‘I Live Now as a Singer’, the last song in her set saw Byrne put down the guitar and sing duet with her sidekick on the synth. Their instrumentation stripped back to simple chords played with an organ tone – placing Byrne’s voice in a haunting setting and isolating just one of the many strengths that she modestly demonstrates as an artist. Supporting acts may not be given a lot of time to show an audience what they’re all about, they may not even be given the time of day by a good amount of the audience – it’s a tough position to be in.  Julie Byrne took the short time that she had and made it count for all It’s worth.

Kristin Matsson is the Tallest Man on Earth…  Spiritually rather than literally. He has an energy that is not of this world. Matsson prowled about the stage, playfully darting and hopping to the beat of his own unique and sporadic tempos. He sang every note as if it were his last. He struck each chord with such a passion that his banjo even fell out of tune one time. He tip-toed, flailed and boogied tirelessly through the night. As he played, he would seemingly try to meet eyes with each individual in the room as if to savour every drop of adoration that flooded towards him. Adoration in the form of laughter, singing and a heckle or two for good measure. While most hecklers called out classic hits that Matsson was bound to play anyway, one man clearly felt it was hilarious to simply call out “IKEA!” at the civilised Swede, who’s affable character slipped for a split second when they kept shouting as Matsson began playing a version of his ‘Time of the Blue’ on banjo. “That’s your cue to shut up buddy” – met with raucous cheer from the crowd. Matsson expressed his amazement at how someone can look so unsuspecting one second, but would then blurt out unintelligible nonsense the next as if it could elicit any kind of decent response. “We can’t communicate like this!” Matsson said, trying to relieve fans from treating him like a jukebox. No matter how the crowd behaved, it was clear that everyone was spell-bound – in utter awe. Matsson seemed so grateful, “It’s the treasure of my life to see you here”. He told a story about how he tries to take the adoration on board with each show and how it influences him to treat every person he meets a little better each time. The music was interspersed with monologues – how his 60-year-old neighbour cured a case of writer’s block and birthed ‘The Running Styles of New York’, how break-ups are great inspiration for song writing and a satirical tale about how his 12-year long career started as a dare. He was also self-deprecating – astounded by how so many people had come out to watch him play “sad songs”, he added, “They’re only sad in a world of white privilege, but sad songs for a Saturday night”. Matsson performed hits of old and new, oddities too. Classics such as ‘The Gardener’, ‘I Won’t Be Found’ and ‘King of Spain’, performed with the same vigour, intricacy and rawness that made them such lovable songs in the first place. ‘Love is All’ brought the whole room together, the crowd sang just as proudly as the man, himself. Songs from his latest album release, I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream. were presented in a new light. The multi-instrumentation of the studio recordings stripped away, leaving Matsson to resort to playing just one of the many toys that he had at a time. With close to a new instrument for each song, the only assistance Matsson needed to rock the room was of his dependable guitar technician, Anna. Throughout his two-hour set she would hand him a banjo multiple times, several guitars – acoustic and electric. Some guitars with 6 strings, some with 12. All the while, Matsson performed in front of a keyboard that had the pleasure of being played twice – once for ‘Little Nowhere Towns’ and again when he returned for an encore to play ‘There’s No Leaving Now’. He closed the night with the instrument he knows best, the acoustic guitar – playing ‘The Wild Hunt’.

Although Matsson described performing solo for the Albert Hall as a “stress dream”, his presence filled the stage. Matsson doesn’t perform as if he’s alone. He doesn’t dance as if he’s singing about heartbreak, he dances as if life goes on. He clearly has so much love to give and he doesn’t want to waste a single drop of it. The long-standing ovation from the crowd was testament to the love shared in the room. The fans would have stayed there clapping all night if it wasn’t for the speakers to blare The Supremes’ ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ – ushering the crowd to leave, dancing and singing along as they go. This was a once in a lifetime performance.

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Words Simon Harwood

(Credit to Sonic P.R for making this possible.)

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