If two loved-up Tallest Man on Earth fans had conceived a child on his last visit to Whelan’s, the little baby would be due today. As a sign of what a stand-up guy he is, Kristian Matsson returned to Dublin last night to check on the potential new-born and play a few songs. I don’t think that actually happened, but here’s what did change over the past 9 months: He got a nice new red electric guitar (a Gretsch, if you must know). He brought a lady friend called Amanda this time. He has released a very fine second album called The Wild Hunt. And, while he has the same amount of breathing space around him on the stage, the same can not be said for those of us in the crowd.
For whatever reason, Matsson has drawn a far bigger crowd to Whelan’s this time. There are no seats and there is little room for manoeuver on the floor. There is smatterings of chatter around the room, but the increased numbers do not phase the Swedish songsmith and neither do the technical problems during opening song “The Wild Hunt”. His steely gaze and snarling voice are enough to silence any potential distractions. The way he commands the room is nothing short of remarkable. When he ocassionally stomps to the edge of the stage on either side, the fear and bemusement of those in the front row is obvious. He is quite happy to demonstrate his guitar-picking skills a few inches from someone’s face like some sort of aggressive troubadour. The sound of the guitar naturally doesn’t compare to the crystal clear brightness of his recordings, but his vocals are largely much more compelling in a live setting.
I liked to think about what it was like when he was starting out as a performer, playing in the corner of Swedish bars as a local nobody. I wonder if he managed to pull off the same act or if he was ignored like the vast majority of solo acoustic acts. It’s hard to imagine him accepting anything other than the undivided attention of his audience and this insistence upon the crowd’s respect for the performance is undoubtedly a large factor in his success up to this point. This is not to say that he comes across as a difficult, diva type. On the contrary, there’s a mutual understanding that this is a musician’s show and should be treated as such. He jokingly sings “The Gardener” to Suzanne Vega who is playing next door, fans throw chord sheets, he takes a request from another and everybody is happy. Like so many visitors to Ireland, this is his final show before a luxurious 5-week holiday at home where he will likely be cursing the fact that his nation aren’t represented in the World Cup either. Eh… yeah, I’m gonna go watch the World Cup now.