This past Wednesday, Cain’s Ballroom welcomed The Tallest Man on Earth, accompanied by opener Lady Lamb, to Tulsa. Neither artist had performed in Oklahoma prior to last week’s concert, and both said they were honored to play at the historic venue.
The show opened with Lady Lamb entering the stage and immediately launching into an a cappella rendition of one of her older ballads, Up The Rafters. Twenty-six year old Aly Spaltro, the woman behind Lady Lamb, is a Portland, Maine native who holds the capability of silencing an entire audience in captivation at the powerful delicacy of her voice. Total darkness in the ballroom assisted in producing the chilling effect of her raspy voice breaking the stillness.
Following resounding applause and the switching on of the house lights, Lady Lamb transitioned into lively songs showcasing her expertise on the electric guitar along with an extensive vocal range. Bird Balloons ended with an increasingly fast guitar riff that led into bubbly Billions of Eyes, in which Aly airily expounds on the joys of catching a nearly-missed train.
Disarmingly charming tunes accompanied haunting, melancholy, yet light-hearted lyrics throughout Lady’s discography. Approaching the world as dark and wondrous, she picks up on and musically highlights details contained in a plethora of subjects: family, new love, daily life, lost love, sonder, death and travel, to name a few.
Milk Duds, The Nothing Part II and Crane Your Neck closed out Lady Lamb’s 40-minute portion of the show. A deceivingly sweet tune about an old love, Milk Duds contained the poignant line “You can’t remember me for the life of you,” nestled within the upbeat song whose multitude of high notes resulted in Spaltro adorably crinkling her nose while energetically hitting them.
The audience clapped along to her last song, Crane Your Neck, an island-vibed song rendered in a minor key that displayed Aly’s skill in fingerpicking and utilizing breaths creatively in between throaty crooning. “If you’re dreaming ‘bout dying, then you’re not really living, darling” preceded the transition into a dream-pop conclusion that swung between peaceful, melodic guitar warbling and quick-paced dance music.
After a brief interim, The Tallest Man on Earth jumped on stage-literally, as he flew in from the wings and launched himself over a chair that was sitting center stage. This stunt elicited much cheering from the crowd that had pushed itself closer to the stage during the pause between acts. Kristian Matsson, the man behind Tallest Man, was performing his work accompanied by a four-person backing band.
Opening with Fields of Our Home was a solid choice on Matsson’s part, as the audience was composed mostly of fans who sang along to each word. In comparison to the folksy, acoustic feel that the majority of Tallest Man’s songs possess on album, his sound on stage was really fleshed out by the full band. It was rousing and uplifting, rounded out by the violin, saxophone, keyboard, drums, and playful vocals supplementing Matsson’s own electric-acoustic guitar and bouncy tenor voice.
Slow Dance followed, a not particularly slow song that had the attendees stomping and clapping in time with the music. Matsson’s energy on stage rivaled the crowd’s, as he ceaselessly leaped and hopped and spun across the entirety of the stage. His enthusiasm was only quelled and transformed into passion when he played slow songs, seated on the same chair which he’d leapt over in his entrance.
Relieving the backing band for a couple songs, 1904 and Darkness of the Dream, Tallest Man proved himself just as capable in solo work as he is in collaboration. A husky, deep voice emerged from his throat as he finger-plucked a twelve-string guitar with a fish-a Swedish fish?-embroidered on the leather strap. His aesthetic was reminiscent of calm wilderness, as his other two guitars had a redwood and a flock of birds embroidered on their straps, his leather boots were well-worn, and his facial hair had a defined scruffiness.
Tallest Man returned to its five-person form for the next portion of the show, which included songs about “me and my grandfather and not being able to sleep,” “my old fuck-ups,” “my best friend Tim,” “Portugal and a lot of other shit.” The Gardener received the greatest audience response, with the conclusion’s lyrics being filled in by the crowd when Matsson pulled back from the mic, expectantly peering around at his adorers as they shouted his words back at him.
Preceding his quieter pieces, Matsson issued a warning to the concertgoers: if they talked during the song, he’d only play it quieter until they stopped to listen. This was effective in practice, as the back of Cain’s Ballroom did have some talkers, but once they realized the music was no longer audible, they ceased drowning it out with their conversation. Another incentive for the crowd to cooperate was that Tallest Man’s guitar pick was thrown into the air following each song, so attentive attendees were more likely to catch one.
Quite a few of Tallest Man’s songs didn’t require a pick however, as Matsson adeptly plucked melodically on both his blonde twelve-string guitar and clementine-hued electric. His lilting, birdlike presence on stage contrasted with the saturating energy in each song; the overall effect was that of Scandinavian folk tunes meshed with island pop and a touch of classic country.
The “country” impression was highlighted during Matsson’s cover of Blaze Foley’s If I Could Only Fly, a 1979 hit out of Austin, Texas. An impressive falsetto harmony was provided by Tallest Man’s fiddler. Afterwards, a Swedish conversation between Matsson and an audience member set the tone for Tallest Man to dedicate a song to Lady Lamb for “inspiring us every night.” The ensuing piece, Criminals, was a hauntingly alluring duet between a console steel guitar and Matsson’s electric; next, he took command of the piano and played a light waltz-like tune, Little Nowhere Towns.
Since Tallest Man had paid a visit to the Woody Guthrie Center in the Brady District earlier that day, Matsson performed a cover of Bob Dylan’s Song to Woody as a tribute, saying “I’ve never played it live before, but I just need to play it here.” It was certainly a unique experience, as he promised at its conclusion, “That will never happen again; that will only happen here and now.”
The disco ball was lit up and spinning for the rousing piece King of Spain, followed by the titular track from Tallest Man’s newest album, Dark Bird is Home, which ended with a full-bodied instrumental segment that renewed the crowd’s waning energy. The hour and a half set wasn’t enough to satiate the attendees, though, so an encore was in store: The Dreamer and Like the Wheel concluded the performances, with the five-person troupe joining voices for an a cappella closing to the final song. Harkening back to Lady Lamb’s a cappella opening, the Tallest Man on Earth brought the concert full-circle and ended on a high note.