It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a seated gig in Whelan’s. It reminds me of afternoon gigs years ago with young chancers like Damien Rice and that girl who sings with him. The seating arrangement is nice for a half-full gig, but on Friday night Kristian Matsson – the Swede claiming to be The Tallest Man on Earth – had drawn a substantial crowd. In this situation, the blockade created by the 4 or 5 rows of seats adds to the circle of shame phenomenon as well as the bottleneck at the stairs from the back bar.
Having heard about his intense live shows before, I thought that the seating was put in place to facilitate a more respectful, listening audience rather than the nattering, plastic glass-clinking rabble that usually fills the venue. The stage set-up is as sparse as it gets, with a chair pressed up against the back wall and a single mic stand up front-centre. When the Tall one finally walks on stage, he carries a guitar like a weapon, but quickly lowers it to the ground before hurrying backstage to grab another one. His performance is full of this kind of staggering indecision and wild, nomadic stomping around the stage. He makes brief, fleeting use of the chair during a few songs, trying it out for the shortest of moments before launching back at the microphone with his trademark country-folk growl.
He starts with “The Blizzard’s Never Seen The Desert Sands” and the hugely popular “I Won’t Be Found” from last year’s Shallow Grave album. The initial quiet of the attentive crowd is slowly breached with a few attendees joining in for a sing-song. As the choir grows, Matsson’s infamously intense stare becomes diverted towards those giving him a helping hand. After initially claiming he couldn’t understand the drunk Irish accent, it transpires that his new-found friends are actually from his native country, but this does little to appease the rockabilly-looking Swede. He stalks the boundaries of his stage like a brooding, territorial animal and takes every echoed word from the crowd as a challenge to display his vocal ability. As he completes each blistering line in his uniquely visceral Dylan style, he peers out to potential challengers and nods contentedly to the silenced room, confident that he has won his battle.
That the majority of the crowd stuck around to speak to him and buy records afterwards is a mark of how well he manages to command the respect of the audience in a fearful but nonetheless likeable manner. His interaction with the crowd as a whole is even slightly similar to Bon Iver, with whom he toured the US last year. On the strength of this, his first show in Ireland, the man with the snarling tunes could go a lot further before he finds his way into two seperate coffins.
More photos here.