Tall Man Crushby Andrei Van Wyk / Images by Paris Brummer / 13.02.2012
Formal seating always throws everyone off. The venue, built for a classic ensemble or self-help seminar, contrasts with the dingy bar gigs we are all used to. People are spilling drinks on the red carpet as they stumble through the ticket check. As I speak to people, and eavesdrop on conversations, one refrain becomes apparent; the majority of the audience do not know any of the acts playing.
The announcement of The Tallest Man On Earth’s South African tour was met with great excitement. But weirdly, almost everyone I spoke to hadn’t heard any of his songs. Many trotting out the line: “I don’t really know The Tallest Man On Earth, or Beatenberg for that matter, but my friend had an extra ticket…”
Beer is sipped formally and voices are toned down. The entire atmosphere seems unnecessarily intimidating. For a few in the know fans, this is a dream come true, the others receive it as an irregular night out. Hoping the unfamiliar music will be catchy enough to save them.
Until tonight Beatenberg was just a creative band name. After 3 years of crafting a strategic and beautifully executed pop sound they’ve inveigled their way onto a stage giants would envy. This is without a doubt their biggest show. As the audience scramble through the dark to their seats, a thin yellow light flickers across the auditorium shining onto the three random musicians onstage. On a clean guitar Matthew Field sends through delicately simple notes which seem to flow on a wave and hop on every beat of Robin Brink’s African influenced drumming. The bass slides smoothly from note to note, keeping everything in its right place. They’ve crafted a simple, but not entirely cohesive, blend of Afro-beat and pop with subtle melodies sent through Fields’ smooth, but slightly shaded, vocals. But it’s competent, textural and rich.
The crowd seems divided. Some respond naturally to the catchy aspects while others dissect the influences. A mixture between Graceland era Paul Simon and Vampire Weekend. John Mayer’s vocals to the background of The Lion King. Despite all the comparisons, there’s a clear sense of originality in the song-writing and melodies and this sets them apart from many other South African bands. They actually attempt to sound African; there’s an element of truth in terms of their references and influences that is quite refreshing. The crowd take them and their off-mic banter very well, laughing and clapping until the lights come back on.
The build up to the main show is defined by a kind of childlike curiosity. True fans of Kristian Matsson aka The Tallest Man On Earth stare in front of them, rapt, like a vision is coming, as the roaming spotlights pull everyone’s attention to the stage. He marches on with leopard-like pounces. After a glowing reception to his shadow, the crowd goes still. He begins with “I won’t be found” which seems to stun the crowd. His voice booms through the auditorium and snares the audience into following every word with the corresponding emotion. He moves and gyrates across the stage with the vigour of a punk rocker. His fingers, a motionless blur as they stroke each string. It’s highly technical guitar work which radiates a kind of brightness coupled with the demented melancholy from his frantic howl.
His performance is a clear representation of conflict. His stage name contrasts his diminutive stature. A small man moving with an exciting confidence as his shadow projects his larger than life personality. His acoustic jangle pop guitar clashes with his dejected, and slightly whiny, voice. His lyrics speak of both madness and happiness. Whatever the conflict, his act is accepted by an astonished crowd. His songs invariably lead to comparisons with Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, but there are subtle differences which set him apart. But despite the infectious energy and likeable stage personality and the fact that his songs shine off the stage, he still cuts a desolate and lonely figure, typified by the fact that some in the crowd ignore his performance, choosing to stay glued to the conversations or their cellphones.
And yet The Tallest Man has strategies for the distracted. Audience whispers are overpowered by with melodic pauses and glottal stops. Soon his strategic silences are met with ferocious applause. Though the auditorium seating and intricate stage lighting have the makings of a formal event made for old people with dodgy hips, the crowd shows their excitement and appreciation in foot stomps and lively clapping. The environment does not dictate the atmosphere, which is that of a folk show in its truest sense. In the thick of the show, it’s obvious that the crowd and Kristian have a crush on each other. Love and admiration flow back and forth. Both artist and crowd, though foreign to each other, showing a true mutual appreciation. He ends his set with a cover of Nico’s ‘These days’, a beautifully executed song that captures a perfect representation of the performance.