For a man pursued by continuous comparisons to the legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan (who arrives in the city in just a few days time), it initially seems strange that this show would open with a cover by the man himself, yet this is what Kristian Matsson decides to do at Albert Hall in Manchester tonight. This is never going to be received negatively in a room full of 2500 fans, but Moonshiners is one of the more obscure tracks in Dylan’s extensive repertoire and it appears to possess some significance in its choice of opening song tonight. From the moment The Tallest Man on Earth enters the stage it becomes clear that this slight singer-songwriter is determined to present himself in a manner that is unpredictable and certainly unexpected. With this in mind, his choice of opener appears to be ultimately both ironic, tongue in cheek and bloody inspired.
To prepare the room for what is to come, Manchester’s Albert Hall is treated to an incredibly satisfying solo performance from Phil Cook. Affable and completely engaging in his presentation, this experienced singer-songwriter from the United States battles hard to overcome the general riff-raff of an audience still getting themselves settled, but his personal brand of bluesy garage rock is hard to dismiss. Recent release Southland Mission is certainly a mashup of the gospel and blues genres that he has clearly devoured in his home state of North Carolina. Presented solo however, his performance exhibits all the laid-back qualities of early Black Keys records. Expressive slide guitars compliment authentic vocals, but it is the personal subject matter which sets this artist apart from his contemporaries. and his self-deprecatory approach to his songwriting appeals to an audience gradually warming to this good-natured performer. Songs about his exasperations as a father and an inability to make fundamental adult decisions certainly demonstrate Phil Cook’s ability to create material that his audience can relate to, which is no mean feat for a songwriter but it is his innate skill as a musician that lingers and the extended instrumental which closes his set is particularly thrilling.
On record, Sweden’s Kristian Matsson is an understated and particularly elegant singer-songwriter and one certainly doesn’t expect the kind of entry we are treated to following Phil Cook’s stimulating support slot. Leaping on to the stage, dressed all in white, his frenetic pirouettes catches us all of guard and the veracity of his performance of Moonshiners is gripping. It is quickly followed by the fragile yet sincere Fields of Our Home and the energetic Slow Dance. It quickly becomes apparent that predicting what will come next over the next couple of hours will be very difficult indeed. What becomes immediately apparent following these opening tracks is how disparate Dylan and The Tallest Man on Earth actually are and it becomes completely understandable why Kristian would launch the concert in the way he has; if the comparisons are going to exist, Matsson’s performance tonight allows them to be quashed immediately.
Albert Hall is THE best live music venue in Manchester but a Friday night gig will always battle against the more inebriated punter unfortunately. Tonight’s show certainly has its fair share of ignorant gossips but the venue’s magnificent balcony proves to be the perfect viewing platform for the show. Twinkling fairy lights compliment the venue’s spectacular lighting and Kristian appears to feed off the energy which the room is projecting. Playing with a full band certainly enhances his performance and songs such as Love is All and Revelation Blues take on an extra dimension with these broader arrangements. Indeed, the show is particularly surprising in its thrilling musicality and a rousing guitar solo is accompanied by the gloriously evocative tones of the pedel steel towards the end of the evening. King of Spain is a particular fan favourite but it is in the more introspective, melancholic moments where The Tallest Man on Earth excels and this is demonstrated with the heartfelt Dark Bird is Home which builds to a thrilling climax to end the show, before the customary encores.
I suppose one of the challenges for a musician will be the way material is presented in the live context. Tonight, Kristian Matsson absolutely nails it by expanding the arrangements of material that has a raw, organic feel to it on record, delivering an unexpectedly dramatic performance, full of energy and a surprising amount of agility.
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto