Surely, you've heard and possibly partaken of the phenomenon known as summer music festivals. I've seen a few, but this post is not about a summer festival. Rather, this post is festival adjacent, detailing a one-off gig preceding the massive gathering mere blocks from my home -- namely, the Tallest Man on Earth's appearance at Bimbo's 365 Club ahead of his slot at Outside Lands.
Tallest Man on Earth, Bimbo's 365 Club, August 8, 2013: I don't know when this blog turned into intermittent postings by a 40-something music fan (er, when I turned 40?), but I have to reach into that bottomless bag of old-timer cliches once again to set the scene for this gig. Bear with me -- or skip this altogether. It's your choice, and either way, I'll respect your decision.
Here's a tip to all the young-ish people who might possibly read my blog: Your concert-going habits will change over time. Actually, you may stay the same, and your gig attendance may remain on the same clip. But I can almost guarantee that the group of friends who accompany you won't stay static as people move away, have kids, take jobs, or simply lose interest. Also, tastes shift, and you or your buddies may realize your back is going or your feet just can't take the ache from standing for hours on end through opening acts and the like.
If you're lucky, you get a second (or third or fourth or ... ) wind when a band draws you in, and you'll go to extensive ends to hit their gigs. Alternately, a friend whose taste you trust will suggest a gig that might be up your alley, and you'll go without a ton of forethought but a strong helping of faith -- which is how I found myself at the Tallest Man on Earth gig.
It's no secret I've been out of the loop with music for a few years now. Somewhere in the recent past, all the blogs and the podcasts and the tweets and the hype became dreadfully tiresome, and it's almost an accident that I can be bothered to investigate any sensation at all. I don't mind admitting I've probably missed the boat on a lot of new acts, but you know what? It's not a terrible thing to let a little wind out of the sails at this point. Mind you, music is still my first option when vacation or downtime beckons, but I'd be lying if I claimed it enjoys the same prominence as before.
I think the Tallest Man on Earth hit these shores around the time my dedication was wavering. I recall the name being bandied about by various friends and on certain forums, but despite my love for dudes with acoustic guitars, he didn't really stand out among the crop of singer/songwriters at the time. Now, having seen his show, I can admit I was terribly wrong in most respects. Color me corrected.
I can't tell you what his songs were about; then again, I stopped listening to lyrics a long time ago. But I can report that he draped his tunes across the structure I love so much: verses, choruses, melodies, bridges, and so on. Maybe you like them too? I even picked up on a handful of refrains without knowing a note of his tunes beforehand. Along the way, he offered a number of charming non-explanatory explanations, including a claim that most of his songs were about birds and one was about falling off a horse, except it wasn't, though it had really happened to him.
For a solitary guy with a single guitar at a time, he definitely made some noise. You could fairly characterize his music as sensitive, but it was anything but shy, as he roared out the lyrics and banged on his instrument. At one point, I wondered if he was using loops because the cumulative effect was so grand, but I ultimately concluded it was all him and his talent.
One of the main reasons to go to a live show is to check out the intangibles a recording could never get across. With the Tallest Man on Earth, this extra oomph came down to a palpable connection between the artist and the crowd. On our side of the stage, this meant plenty of college-age females with hearts popping from their eyes and their breath caught in their throat, but the male admirers were well represented too, including a couple of guys closer to my age who staked out primo spots at the edge of the stage. To be fair, the millennials were right there too, wearing their official Tallest Man on Earth shirts and bearing their newly purchased merchandise.
In return, the artist known as Kristian Mattson responded with tons of unequivocal eye contact, several replies to audience shout-outs, and even one request for a David Bazan song. One of the biggest reactions of the night came when he segued into Paul Simon's "Graceland" (I think -- this was not my part of my '80s), clearly a crowd favorite. In between, he said a lot of nice things about San Francisco, but one of his final gestures of the night offered the best statement of all.
At the end of the main set, as he accepted our applause, he knelt down at the edge of the stage and embraced one of the aforementioned more mature fellows in a huge bear hug. With his real-life small stature, the Tallest Man looked like he was almost in the fetal position as he cuddled with this fan. Then he did the same with someone else on the other side of the stage. "Heartfelt" would be an understatement for the moment.
At my current rate, there's a good chance I won't ever see another Tallest Man on Earth gig unless, say, I drag my Swedish sister-in-law along to bolster her national pride. If that happens, at least I can assure her we'll be in for a fun, engaging show by a magnetic performer, and she won't regret coming along.