The Tallest Man On Earth and Nathaniel Rateliff at Pabst Theater
- MONDO LUCHA! celebrates fifth anniversary in high-flying style at Turner Hall
- David Sedaris goes off book, shines at Pabst Theater
- Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck offer glimpses of greatness at Riverside Theater
- John Hodgman, Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman give Pabst Theater three shows for price of one
- Top 5 musical moments from Kenosha’s 2013 Ride of the Living Dead
Swedish folk singer Kristian Matsson—better known as The Tallest Man On Earth—likes to creep around the stage, weaving in and out of the spotlights, bending down to the audience, and looking out into the darkness as if he’s going to jump off and run away. And really, there’s very little keeping him tethered there—a few guitars, a microphone, and Tuesday night at the Pabst, an ornate antique chair in the center of the stage. It’s a setup that’s true to the starkness of Matsson’s music, though it was more than enough to keep an intensely enthusiastic audience captivated.
Listening to Matsson’s fantastic records, including this year’s The Wild Hunt, you imagine him alone, hunched over a microphone, yelping loosely tied-together narratives with vivid and wandering imagery. Where the records create a sort of enchanting distance, Matsson’s live performance Tuesday found him charmingly accessible as he established an easygoing conversational tone between himself and the audience.
Live, the songs took on a new energy, with Matsson cutting phrases short or alternately emphasizing various song segments through tempo changes and manic delivery. For instance, the standout song “King Of Spain” was brought to a near standstill as Matsson whispered “the king” before closing with an expected blur of strumming. Throughout the night Matsson created a fascinating tension and sense of anticipation that had the audience in the palm of his hand.
Even the unexpected numbers, like a cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” found the audience eager to participate; in this case, there was a short-lived clap-along that Matsson halted, apologetically adding, “Sorry for killing the clap, but it’s really hard to dance to a song about divorce.” Many of the songs, at least lyrically, could have been lost to melancholy—Matsson described one song as “really sad and terrible”—but there was so much enthusiasm reverberating in the room that there was never any real threat of despondency. The closest thing things ever came to sadness was during an emotionally powerful encore consisting of “This Wind,” and a new song lamenting over isolation and the enviable strength of travelers.
Opener Nathaniel Rateliff made his second trip to Milwaukee in just under a month, and judging from the warm reception the Denver-based singer-songwriter and his four-piece band received, there ought to be a sizable audience when he returns yet again in July for a headlining show at Club Garibaldi. It will be well-deserved: Faithfully performing songs off of his stellar debut In Memory Of Loss, Rateliff delivered spine-tingling and emotionally potent numbers like “You Should’ve Seen The Other Guy” with delicate force.