Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Tallest Man on Earth at the Bowery Ballroom

David Stevens and I rolled into the Bowery Ballroom last night to catch The Tallest Man on Earth. David has been excited about this actually-not-that-tall Swede (real name Kristian Matsson) for quite some time, and having listened to his folky, acoustic-guitar-backed tracks on MySpace, I was up for checking him out.

The opening band was Red Cortez, a four-piece hailing from California and formerly known as The Weather Underground. Coming out harsh with two electric guitars being strummed at top speed, I said, while sticking my earplugs in, "Well, this should be a contrast to The Tallest Man..."

To my ears, they had a bit of a Black Crowes sound, but I say that about 2 out of 5 bands that I see for lack of better vocabulary, and David last night decided to make fun of me for the comparison. Therefore, I was pleased to discover that the folks at Daytrotter (via Brooklyn Vegan) agree with the assessment.

I warmed up to the group a little bit when lead singer Harley Prechtel-Cortez switched from blaring electric guitar to the keyboard. Cutting back to one furiously strummed guitar freed up the sound a bit, reducing the edge and bringing Harley's voice out. While at the keyboard, he launched into a solid gospel-sounding number with a beat meant to be clapped along to and some lyrics about the devil being outside.

They had a couple of other all right tracks, but nothing that really got planted in my head. Bassist Ryan Kirkpatrick looked like he was straight back from playing Lucky in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. I appreciated that.

The Tallest Man on Earth was solid from the moment that he hit the stage. Armed only with an acoustic guitar, his elfin movements around the stage -- yes, the Tallest Man on Earth projects has an elfin demeanor -- brought the crowd in, and his playing was crisp and precise.

In fact, his guitar playing is pretty amazing. He can strum fast, but when he does, the bass line rises to the top of the playing. He can also fingerpick with the best of them -- by which I mean Blind Blake and Skip James -- getting a solid driving beat out of the guitar. And he does all of this while moving around the stage, coming back to the microphone -- slightly shocked to see it there -- to sing the verses. (In his sly stage wanderings, he reminded me a bit of Curtis Eller, who I saw back in February.)

The Tallest Man's sound is country gothic. He reminded me of some of the material that 16 Horsepower used to put out, although with implied banjo, rather than real banjo. He also reminded me of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, although maybe because he's not afraid to reference moles in the ground and lizards in the spring.

And there also is a clear Bob Dylan influence. The song "Honey Won't You Let Me In" takes pretty directly from "The Hour That the Ship Comes In," and seems to reference Eric Von Schmidt's "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down." His lyrics are a mixture of rambling cosmic imagery, which is Dylanesque in its way, too.

For the last song of his regular set, The Tallest Man busted out some roots, playing a really nice version of Patsy Cline's "Faded Love." Readily called back to the stage, he encored with two of his own songs.

In the middle of the set, his guitar pick-up stopped working, so he bent his vocal microphone down toward his guitar and continued to play and sing at the same time, and it all sounded good. The Tallest Man on Earth wasn't going to let the lack of a DI get to him. And I respect that. And I enjoyed my time with the Tallest Man on Earth.

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