ONCE or twice in a blue moon, the planets align in such a way as to provide the social calendar with a plethora of choices, in a well-stocked evening of fully loaded entertainment and culture. On one such a night, I am genuinely forced to make the serious decision as to what I want to indulge in or experience. Weighing all the opportunity costs, and suffering a debilitating twisted arm, I stake my claim. Standing before a heaving snake of people, wrapping and contorting back and fourth, I’m confident I have made the correct decision. This legion is truly a testament to an artistic muscle’s pulling power, erasing any niggling concerns and indicating how untypical the affair is to come. If any further confirmation is somehow desired, one need only cast a passing glimpse upon the sheer amount of undesirable ticket tout types, bothersome uncouth ever-swarming locusts, eager to sell and secure tickets, barometers of quality, however backhanded or convoluted that actually may be.
Inside the venue sways to what I can only imagine, or hope, is capacity; it is nigh on impossible to move without bumping into a swinging cat or treading on the toes of some overprotective guy’s girlfriend. Rafter to rafter, floor to ceiling, the balcony is stuffed in a manner I have only seen in film or images of some faded glory’s golden age of theatre time expired. Everybody is seemingly channelling their psychic energy onto the stage. The mood is tense and electric. Smoke emanates and decorates the air under coloured light, all witnesses whoop and bellow, crashing limbs cheer, a collective inhalation of air, Kristian Matsson takes the stage, The Tallest Man On Earth.
A pick and mix of guitars before him, he makes his way with ease through his repertoire, a champion of the people. His tales of have and have not win the hearts and capture the imagination of nearly all in attendance. Dipping in and out of his back catalogue, he ducks and dives about the stage. So enamoured, so taken so under his spell, a sold-out crowd of eyes can be heard to hush any who dare to speak whilst he sings. A ragged piece of driftwood for a voice, creaking howls, smoothed and varnished, rubbing the crowd the right way, he can’t help but win them over. Courteous and charming and full of thanks, he declares on more than one occasion how nervous he is, and that tonight’s show is the biggest he has ever played. Yet, if he were not to have mentioned it, I doubt a single person would have noticed.
An odd bunch in attendance, I experience an arrogant hostility from most. The dichotomy strikes me considering the intention and the place where the songs come from. An untucked-plaid-shirt-wearing crowd, sporting chinos, boat shoes with no socks and sleeves rolled up, sans the easily swayed faddiness of a hipster and possessing another kind of holier-than-thou arrogance; a sort of condescending assuming intelligence, that of course is never wrong. Of course, I am making generalisations.
Joined by a live band later in the set, I swear I hear a boo! from somewhere in the room as he introduces his friends and fellow musicians. Adding an additional edge, if you close your eyes hard enough, you can perhaps see an arena beckoning them forward. The simple addition of drum and bass softening the blow of the songs in a way in which you could imagine your parents listening to them on a relaxed Sunday, reading the broadsheets whilst applying marmalade to the last piece of bread bought fresh that morning. No cries of Judas.
Live the songs sometimes feel shorter, ending as I feel they should crescendo, somehow missing the same sense of intimacy and delicacy they do on record. Yet, there is no question that he possesses a jaw-dropping ability, a virtuosity whittled over thousands of hours of practice, in some moments sounding like a full-blown orchestra possessing an ‘other’ atmosphere about them. The songs call for an interaction in which hundreds, if not thousands, of people happily respond, echoing his every last word. Losing count of the kisses shared back and fourth from the couples surrounding me, it seems their lost for words have been found and articulated, their declarations stolen from the tips of their tongues then sung back to them, an unmentioned arrangement, a happy exchange, he the sun to which the blooming audience flower towards, song after song, day after day.
02 Sheperd's Bush Empire
Shepherd's Bush Green
London, W12 8TT
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