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Tallest Man on Earth is a big hit in his Kansas City debut

Kristian Matsson
Kristian Matsson

Kristian Matsson wasn’t even the tallest man on stage, but Thursday night at the Midland theater, he made a very large and indelible impression during his first-ever performance in Kansas City.

Matsson, a native of Sweden who performs as the Tallest Man on Earth, is touring on the album “Dark Bird Is Home.” For years he has performed as a solo-acoustic singer/songwriter. On this tour, he has hired a four-piece band that added percussion and a variety of instruments to his ornate folk songs, including saxophone, viola, keyboards and pedal steel guitar.

He opened with “Fields of Our Home,” a lambent folk hymn from “Dark Bird” that his band bathed in wafts of pedal steel and viola. Matsson’s voice is distinctive but it bears resemblances to a few singers: Steve Forbert and Conor Oberst are two who come to mind. It’s naturally expressive and emotive, perfectly suiting his abstractly introspective songs.

Birds appear frequently in his lyrics, including the folk-rocking “Slow Dance,”the show’s second number, which included some tasteful keyboard embellishments from Ben Lester. The set list focused on the “Dark Bird” album, but it also tapped his three others. “1904,” a rollicking folk track from his “There’s No Leaving Now” album, was a highlight. So was “The Wild Hunt,” a shuffly country-folk tune with a heavy Bob Dylan vibe.

Matsson performed several songs solo, including “The Gardner” and “The Sparrow and the Medicine.” Both showcased his manic guitar playing, which is at once percussive and melodic, whether he’s strumming chords or fingerpicking. He was a man in motion throughout the 100-minute show, crouching, skipping, hopping about. During one song, he ended up flat on his back.

The crowd of more than 800 paid him reverence, showering him with ovations after every song and remaining pin-drop silent when necessary.

The set list included “Darkness of the Dream,” which he dedicated to his late grandfather and which included some lovely harmonies from his bandmates; “Revelation Blues,” an orchestral country-blues song; “Where Do My Bluebird Fly,” performed as a guitar duet with Mike Noyce; and “Beginners,” a bouncy country-folk song embroidered with peals of Lester’s pedal steel.

He closed with “The Dreamer,” a track from an early EP, and then “Like the Wheel,” which felt like a collaboration between Dawes and the Avett Brothers. On that one Matsson started solo, then all four band members joined him and laid down some stunning harmonies, rendering some enormous and transcendent beauty.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com. Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.

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