The lights dimmed and the crowd remained in their seats, but excitement awaited. A girl in a gold, flashy cape stepped out with a simple hello. Basia Bulat: the opening act that ended with a standing ovation. Bulat had the entire crowd in awe with her captivating instrumental talents. Known for performing with an autoharp, she can also play guitar, the ukele, a hammered dulcimer, a charango and the piano.
Bulat set the bar high with songs like “Tall Tall Shadow” and “Gold Rush”. Rooted in folk, the singer-songwriter seemed humble and genuinely happy to be performing on stage, something you don’t always get from musicians on tour. Alongside her warming presence, it was perhaps during “It Can’t Be You” when she truly proved her remarkable talent. Boldly, Bulat stranded the microphone, singing along the sides of the stage. For those who didn’t know Bulat before the show, most likely stalked her on social media afterwards and purchased her latest album.
After Bulat’s standing ovation and her departure, the crowd patiently anticipated The Tallest Man on Earth, the moniker taken by Kristian Matsson. The singer-songwriter origins from Sweden, touring his fourth album “Dark Bird is Home,” which includes a backing band for the first time.
Then the lights dimmed again and the crowd came to their feet, exhilaration scurrying the room. Matsson’s grand appearance wasn’t just a casual stroll onto stage, it was a fun dash and jump into the air. With one out of the many guitars he would bring onto stage to contrast texture and tuning, he opened with “Fields of Our Home”, the first song off of “Dark Bird is Home”.
Dressed in all black, his playful liveliness didn’t squander once the entire show. He didn’t let an inch of the stage go to waste: squatting, darting, jittering, prancing, and twirling. He reminded me of a little boy in his bedroom, jamming on an air-guitar like nobody was watching, giving it his all. Included with his spirited performance, was his ability to connect with the fans. Known for being charismatic, he missed no time throwing jokes about his cat back home and his boost in humor when he drinks. As for keeping comments local, he shared that he has performed in Milwaukee more times than he has in his home town.
One thing I must note, is that Matsson didn’t treat his band just like background noise. Multiple times he acknowledged, thanked, and shared about them to the crowd. Interesting enough, two of his band members were from Wisconsin. With a style similar to Bob Dylan and chords belligerently drawn out, the band didn’t take away from Matsson’s abilities. Although, many of the concert’s most intriguing instants comprised the fewest musicians.
Entrenched in folk, he sings about love, voyaging, dreams and natural surroundings. “Sagres” and “Timonthy” I leaned to favor of his performance. Despite being on tour to promote “Dark Bird is Home”, he incorporated songs from his previous albums like “Wild Hunt” and “Love is All”. But, it wasn’t the lyrics that had fans in awe, it’s his guitar-playing. It has always been about him and his guitar. The man is truly gifted. His ability to quickly strum and fingerpick while wiggling his body on stage is quite the show.
Once Matsson reappeared for an encore, he returned with another sprint and playful leap into the air. This time without a guitar, he surely put all his energy onto stage, always having more to offer. Parallel to Bulat, Matsson gave the impression of sincere cheerfulness.
Analogous to his lyrics, in a time like this, a traveler won the crowd, and in a place like The Pabst Theater, Matsson showed no sign of being afraid.