A Night Out In Fishtown: The Tallest Man On Earth
Thursday, June 11, 2009
The Tallest Man On Earth
A night out in the wondrous villa of Fishtown is always a sweet treat, friends. And when you add a mysterious Swedish guitar dynamo to the mix, it becomes even sweeter.
I can’t for the life of me recall the first act I went to see at Johnny Brenda’s (I want to say Like Moving Insects, but I don’t have the paperwork to back that up), but I do remember how blown away I was by the place. Excellent upstairs and down, great food & local brews, the perfect intimate stage, and a balcony overhead that provides birds-eye gazes upon the best of the best. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend dropping by.
To start: dinner & drinks. JB’s, much like the Standard Tap (same owners), has an ever-changing menu that almost always delivers, and tonight was pretty close.
For appetizers, my Special Lady Friend and I sampled the BBQ shrimp served on a bed of rice. Interesting, but the rice was actually tastier than the shrimp. C’est la vie.
My entree, on the other hand, was just short of magnificent. Veggie Lasagna, heavy on the mushrooms. Now I am a hardcore advocate of all things delicious and once walking; however, lasagna has always been one of my major vegetarian exceptions (which I make up for around Christmas when Dad makes his famous Pepperoni Sausage Lasagna Inferno). I know that mushrooms are often a meaty substitute, and while I don’t mind them, I don’t love them either. Had JB’s chosen eggplant, it would have been the balls. But still, scrump-diddily-umptious. Along with some PBC Walt Wit and a savory Riverhorse Tripel, top notch eats.
On to the show!
I had heard a lot of hype about The Tallest Man On Earth (folky Swede Kristian Matsson), but hadn’t got around to listening. Then, Beth & I missed him opening for Bon Iver at the Troc when (WTF?) everybody went on exactly on time. But just hearing how blown away Vernon was talking about him made me grab the album the next day and, needless to say, it went on constant rotation. Everybody was calling him the Swedish Dylan and, while he had a lot of Dylan in him, was far from an imitation.
But I must say that watching him live was a different experience altogether. While the music draws more of an early folkier Dylan comparison, his bodily gestures and ultra-thin, tight-pantsed persona alluded more to the Barnaby Street houndstooth speed-addled Dylan. Funny that so many were quick to jump to the Dylan comparison with his record, but what immediately struck me was all the other legends he seemed to channel on that dim JB stage. There was the self-assured cockswagger of a young and virulent Elvis Presley/Elvis Costello (never have I seen the two like-named icons meld like this), along with the latter’s (and David Byrne’s) jerky mannerisms. There were wild-eyed looks directly into audience members’ eyes that brought to mind David Johansen and Iggy Pop. And while it might seem “out there,” the juxtapostion of his acoustic fingerpicking and his in-your-face from-the-diaphragm singing barks made me think of Hendrix playing voluminous Martian guitar licks to a stunned crowd (his initial bellows literally made the entire crowd jolt back like a cheap horror film scare).
He played with a wonderfully flawed fingerpicking style, which is to say that it was almost pristine, but just rough enough around the edges to make it matter. And when he played with a pick, he would end the song by throwing it against the floor, Chris Rock-style. He jittered back and forth from stage corner to stage corner, often sat down and stood up several times within a song, and never played with his capo placed below the fifth fret. The guy commanded the stage, and absolutely stole the show. Then, as if to laugh at all the Dylan talk, closed with “Moonshiner,” and made it better than the master’s. Classic.
I’ve heard John Vanderslice’s new album, and it was all right, but nothing to write home about, if you’re asking this guy anyway. After The Tallest Man On Earth, I just couldn’t imagine sticking around for anything else. And he had to know it.
The Tallest Man On Earth indeed.