The Scene: On Sunday night a sold-out crowd at The Boulder Theater got the opportunity to watch a recording of the nationally syndicated eTown show featuring Swedish folk artist Tallest Man on Earth and Brooklyn folk trio, The Spring Standards. E-Town is a weekly radio show that has been combining live music and meaningful conversation across the county for the last 21 years. It is currently carried by over 300 radio stations. Hosted by Nick Forster (from Hot Rize) and his talented wife Helen Forster, the shows typically showcases two acts and is laced with interviews from the artists and those creating positive change in their communities in one way or another.
Sunday night’s crowd had filled the seats of the 1000 seat venue well in advance of the beginning of an intro video covering the mission of eTown and their new building, the eTown Hall. There’s a certain giddiness I get before an eTown recording. It’s the excitement of seeing one of your favorite artists perform and speak in warm, comfortable environment mixed with all the production elements of a live radio taping. After crowd levels had been taken, Nick Forster played us in with the familiar eTown theme on guitar and then introduced The Tallest Man on Earth, the moniker of 29 year-old Kristian Matsson.
The Tallest Man On Earth: Kristian took the stage with his odd and unique gate. He walked the stage with knees bent and a forward lean, the sort of sneaky walk of a man about to pounce. This was my third time seeing him and, as each time before, the moment he began his aggressive fingerstyle playing, the crowd got absolutely sucked in. He’s just a man (much shorter in stature than advertised), his guitar, and his honeysuckle-sandpaper voice, yet he knocks the wind out of you.
He began his set with “To Just Grow Away” from his great new album There’s No Leaving Now that was two days from release at the time of the show. He followed with two more songs and I believe he had won over every last ear in the venue at the conclusion of the third. Between the second and third songs Matsson sat down on stage with Nick Forrester for an interview. He squirmed in the chair, seeming to not know where exactly to place his hands. As Nick interviewed him about his upbringing, his influences, Dylan comparisons, and playing NY’s Town Hall, Matsson seemed very uncomfortable in body language and speech. His interview reminded me a similar eTown interview I saw with Ray LaMontagne; both very personal men on a very public stage. As with Ray, it pained me to see someone I respect so much so uncomfortable. A few of his responses to questions were so devoid of the answer and so awkwardly delivered that he and the crowd laughed which did help to ease some of the tension. After the conclusion of the interview Matsson jokingly mentioned that he was better at playing music and took back to the guitar with a sense of relief. “1904” followed the interview and the nervous interviewee had completely disappeared.
The Spring Standards: Following the eChievement award, which I encourage readers to check out when the show airs, New York folk trio, The Spring Standards, took the stage. The group is composed of childhood friends James Cleare, Heather Robb and James Smith. I had been digging into their most recent album, yellow/gold in the days prior to the taping and enjoying it, but as quickly as The Tallest Man had grabbed the audience earlier, the voices of the three took my ears. They started their set with “Only Skin,” the first track from their new album and it was Robb’s voice from behind the piano that initially stood out. It has a tinge of melancholy and heart that connected with me, and when the harmonies of Smith and Cleare joined in, the group sounded perfectly complete. They followed with “Crushing Pennies,” one of my favorite tracks from yellow/gold and the three carried the audience away. During the middle of their set, they elected the beautiful Heather Robb to field Nick’s questions. Heather laughed and smiled like the girl next door as the two covered everything from the forming of the band to her influences. Sorry to ruin the radio broadcast, but along with Joni Mitchell, Mariah Carey was mentioned too.
The Tallest Man On Earth: Following The Spring Standards, The Tallest Man took the stage once more and played three more songs. The audience sat attentively as they had the whole night and only piped up to aid with clapping during “King of Spain.” The finale of the show, as is E-Town tradition, was a collaboration of both artists, Nick and Helen, and the E-Tones. They all joined in playing Sinatra’s “Cycles.” The Standard’s smooth vocals and The Tallest Man’s heartfelt growl made for a great cover of the 1968 song. After the conclusion of the show it was the first time I’ve seen an eTown crowd cheer as long for an encore, which I believed just might be happening for a second there, but then the house lights came on and we had to go, having enjoyed an incredible two hours of music and conversation.
I think the line at both merch tables as I walked out spoke for the audience’s impression of the show. I was left more satisfied than such a short show should warrant. The Tallest Man on Earth is one of those artists that can take something so old, so overdone, and make it his own in such a standout way that it begs respect from its influencers. The Spring Standards also put on such a great performance, and pumped out so much positive energy, that when I heard of a show the following night, I went out of my way to go, and ended up loving them even more. If you’ve never checked out either of these artists or an eTown recording, I highly recommend it! You can also catch the recording of the show on KBCO in a few weeks.
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light show: C+