You’re supposed to say you prefer seeing a band in a small club—that’s de rigueur for the indie concertgoer. And it also happens to make sense most of the time. It takes a certain kind of act to really play to a bigger crowd, to make use of the space, both in terms of sound and atmosphere. Yes, Springsteen should play Giants Stadium. But what if he were just playing Nebraska?
The Tallest Man on Earth has become popular in ways attractive dudes with acoustic guitars often become popular. On a personal level, I typically run away from acoustic troubadours as if they were at any moment ready to slick some pomade onto my bangs and cram me into a van with O.A.R., never to be seen again. But Kristian Matsson is the exception that proves the rule, an artist who makes simple music that transcends its elemental nature. It could be his voice, which doesn’t sound as much like Dylan as some insist—more clipped, more grit in his tenor—and is anything but sweet and easy, nothing of that guy on the quad in college who failed Chemistry so he could play terrible Radiohead covers from sunrise to sunset. So, I was unsure what to expect from Matsson’s sold-out show at DC’s 1,200 person-capacity 9:30 Club, a large venue for one man to carry.
The crowd, for its part, was extremely enthusiastic (and as white as Matsson’s native Sweden). The oldest songs got the strongest response, with “The Gardener” and “I Won’t Be Found” turning into the kinds of sing-alongs demanded by, yeah, a guy with a guitar playing a set by himself. Matsson’s voice and fleet-fingered guitar work were in fine shape, largely indistinguishable from on record, though his frequent guitar changes spoke to his affection for open tunings. Onstage, he exudes a cool detachment, crouching and pacing, mumbling inaudibly into the microphone in between every fourth or fifth song. His new LP, the downbeat There’s No Leaving Now, found the strongest showing in the set list, though it must be said its more somber tones also led to the most crowd chatter while Matsson performed. Still, I doubt anyone went home disappointed—if you enjoyed the records, you enjoyed the set, as they sounded one and the same. I’m not sure what Matsson could do differently to fill up the increasingly large venues he’ll be playing, but the audience might just do it for him.