St. Bartholomew’s Church, Brighton, October 29th 2012
The first thing you notice as you step inside Brighton’s St Bartholomew’s Church is the sheer size of it. It’s vast. The arched wooden beams that make up the roof stand a dizzying 135 ft above the church floor. What better a venue then, for Tallest Man on Earth (the pen name of Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson) to play? The scale and uniqueness of the location weren’t lost on him either. “I’m not religious at all. . . but I took my hat off when I came in here” he confided to the crowd halfway through his set, turning to look up at the Church’s cavernous ceiling as he did so.
Following on from a sold out gig at London’s Forum the previous week, and filling up tonight’s venue with apparent ease, Matsson’s folksy, earthy ballads combined with his gruff, growling voice justify the recent attention he’s been attracting. With red lights illuminating the red bricks that make up the interior walls of the church, Matsson stepped out to a champion’s welcome. Whilst clearly influenced by such folk singer-songwriter greats as Bob Dylan, Nick Drake and their ilk, Matsson’s more likely to be compared to more current folk artists that are currently in favour. Of those, Mumford and Sons seem like the most obvious. Whatever you make of Mumford’s brand of mainstream tweed ballads, there is an unmistakable similarity between Matsson’s husky, deliciously bristly voice and that of Marcus Mumford. However, whereas Mumford relies more on the support of his band for effect, Matsson is able to create a full, rounded, and bellowing sound all by himself. He didn’t need any help to fill every square inch of the church with his woodsy folk sound. He did so armed with nothing but select few instruments, his fantastic voice, and his captivating stage presence. The silent reverence of the crowd as he played was testament to this – and I’m sure the hallowed setting played its part as well.
Pausing between songs to tell his congregation how there are many aspects to his working life that he isn’t suited to, from his dislike for travelling to not being a “particularly social person”, Matsson seemed genuinely humbled to be playing here, in this incredible space with this group of people. In what could easily have come off as an selfish moan about the downsides of being a successful musician, it was instead sincere and touching. “This is pretty rad, I gotta tell ya” he said at one point looking up to take in his grand surroundings, clearly humbled by where he found himself.
His set featured a variety of songs from across his three albums, and saw him switching from the rousing ‘The Gardener’, to the beautiful piano led ‘There’s No Leaving Now’ with ease. He was at his best when he used the acoustics of the surroundings to his favour, drawing himself away from the microphone to string out long, powerful notes and waiting until they echoed back at him and then into silence. This was one of the tools he used to make one of his final songs, The King of Spain, such a magical rendition. Whilst the echoing interior of the church could on occasion make particular songs hard to hear clearly, the vast majority of his earthy material suited the location down to a t.
At one of his more reflective moments between songs, Mattson inadvertently reviewed his own gig. With the full moon shining down on the audience through the church’s large rose window, Matsson threw a glace out to the crowd, took a step back to take in the window far beyond them and then the ceiling high above, before leaning back to the mic with a smile to say “this is so fucking awesome”. My thoughts exactly.