The Tallest Man on Earth brings act to U of C
Strand of Oaks warmed hearts right alongside him
It was immediately apparent to anyone who entered the University of Calgary on Sept. 13 that, judging from the sheer amount of plaid garments, the line-up outside The Black Lounge was not in any way related to Thursden business.
MacEwan Ballroom was the place to be.
A night where students typically end their first week back to class with a rowdy initiation to the provincial league of alcohol poisoning was met with a stark contrast once vocalist and guitarist Timothy Showalter of Strand of Oaks and drummer Chris hit the intimate Ballroom stage with the rising melody of Last To Swim.
The captivated crowd stood still, perhaps even more so than many of Strand of Oaks’ rousing songs should have allowed (a common curse among the indie folk crowd) while Showalter’s gentle croon graced their ears with more distorted renditions of pieces old and new — their newest LP, Dark Shores, having been released just over a month ago.
Strand of Oaks, as the lesser-known opener, bonded with the crowd over banter both wistful and charming before launching back into each of his hymns, the explanations for which ranged from the bizarre — “This is a song about killing John Belushi’s drug dealer,” (Daniel’s Blues) — to the sentimental Mareen’s, a song about the ice cream parlor he and his wife used to frequent in their earlier years.
The duo closed up with the dejected drinking chants of Sterling, while Showalter kept on with his constant intuitive half swaying, half lumbering dance.
Their ease and connection with the audience proved a two-piece with an impressive amount of presence, though one could argue that Showalter’s mane and beard, bountiful enough to make a lion jealous, may have been the source of his mesmerizing power.
By contrast, Kristian Matsson, the wiry 5’7” Swedish gent behind The Tallest Man On Earth moniker, calmly took the stage with just his guitars and his keyboard after much anticipation. While the crowd was still buzzing from Strands of Oak, it did not faze Matsson and he settled nicely into his routine.
What the man of the evening did have to boast was awed spectators, transfixed by his brand of new Americana, a hybrid of Nick Drake’s picked open tunings and Bob Dylan’s signature nasal vocals.
Despite being the single musician on stage, the sound also delivered a surprisingly full, hearty ring to fill the hall. If one word had to come to mind while watching this man play, ‘moving’ is a fitting one, both in literal and emotional wording with songs like Leading Me Now, There’s No Leaving Now and 1904. Matsson, appearing to be more introverted than the likes of Strand of Oaks, said little but connected with the audience through his gestures, such as sitting down to play more intimately, as well as countless thank yous.
Bashful as he was charming, no one minded when he paused at the end of Where Do My Bluebirds Fly to apologetically admit he’d made a mistake.
Not surprisingly, the crowd’s applause demanded more as soon as Matsson left the stage and continued until he obliged to hop back onto stage and proceeded to close with a crowd favorite — and set list necessity — a piano rendition of The Dreamer.
Closing off the night with several grateful bows, The Tallest Man on Earth exited as tenderly as the tone of his music, leaving the a crowd with a touch of reverie, hopefully enough to last us until the next time Kristian Matsson graces a Calgary venue.