Archive for category MusicFest NW 2010

MusicFestNW 2010: The Tallest Man on Earth

Photo courtesy of The Tallest Man on Earth’s Social Media Page.

The Tallest Man on Earth blew me away.  (That could be the beginning, middle, and end of this post.)

The Tallest Man on Earth also blew away everyone else at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon last Friday, September 10 as part of MusicFestNW 2010. ….and he did it not once, but twice.

Early in the afternoon, as I sat at the bar of the Doug Fir Lounge eating my Cobb salad, I contemplated my plan for the evening:  See music.  That was it.  As I pondered this fairly simple concept (picture Homer Simpson thinking about doughnuts) I noticed from the corner of my eye a line forming outside.  Not wanting to miss a chance to get my tickets for S. Carey, The Mimicking Birds, The Cave Singers and The Tallest Man on Earth, I begged details from the bartendress:

Me – pointing at line and grunting:  “??” (My mouth was full.)

Bartendress:  “Oh. The line?”

Me:  “Mhm.”

Bartendress:  “KEXP (90.3 FM, Seattle) is doing a live broadcast of several bands.  Some Swedish guy is down there now. It’s free.”

Me:  “slkdfklsjdifjsknfjsflsjdghjfndkf kldj fijkdfjgklsjjf  jkljflkj !!!!!  Can you hold my salad for a while, please?” (I think a small piece of bacon fell from my lips at that point.)

With that, I used the handrails to skip stairs on the way down to the lounge and slid into home base in the middle of “Love is All” by the “Swedish guy”, also known as The Tallest Man on Earth, also known as Kristian Matsson. The all-ages crowd was mesmerized by his commanding, yet gentle, presence and his sheer musical genius.  The song that brought me to tears at around 3pm in the afternoon, sans alcohol, was “Thrown Right at Me”, which is on his new iTunes-only EP, Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird, (physical release November 9).

Feeling lucky to have squeaked into the mid-day performance, I walked upstairs to finish my Cobb salad and book a room for my dogs* and I at The Jupiter Hotel across the parking lot from The Doug Fir. Later that evening I casually walked out of my room when the doors were set to open for ticket sales, thinking that I’d waltz up to the box office, grab a ticket, and have plenty of time for dinner and a drink before the show.  Laughable. Ignorant. My Type-A friends would be ashamed.  My Type-B friends would be ashamed. My mom would still love everything I do. The line was out the door, through the parking lot, onto the sidewalk, and heading north faster than my old iPhone could track.  “*(&#$%!” I walked to the back, joked helplessly with the others in my sinking boat, and reacted appropriately when the bouncer walked back yelling “We’re sold out! That’s it! Sorry, guys!”:  I got tears in my eyes.

Feeling unlucky (but keeping it in perspective..I mean I do have all my teeth and a good family so…) I walked back into the Doug Fir Lounge, unable to tear myself away from the scene even if I wasn’t going to be part of it.  I sat at the bar and ordered a veggie burger, fries, and a whiskey.  A nice man with a sort of handsome/sort of elf-like hat stood next to me waiting for his drink.  I like elves quite a bit.  After a short conversation about the fact that he was “in” (the show) and I “wasn’t” he announced that he was actually in one of the performing bands and would put me on their guest list.

Me: “slkdfklsjdifjsknfjsflsjdghjfndkf kldj fijkdfjgklsjjf  jkljflkj !!!!! No kidding?” (I think a fry may have escaped at that point.

Peter (Pete?) the lead Cave Singer: “Sure! No problem!”

I bought his drinks, thanked him kindly, and thoroughly enjoyed The Cave Singers’ set, which was the first time I had heard of them. Their latest record, Welcome Joy, brought to us about a year ago from Matador Records is a worthy listen, though I really think the live show is where it’s at for this band.  The audience loved these guys and even cheered when, after about 30 minutes, Peter claimed that they were only 1/16 of the way through their show and that a wardrobe change would be coming (different elf hats?).  That’s saying something, given that The Tallest Man on Earth was on next.  The only option pleasing to everyone would have been to add more hours to September 10 and let both the band and the artist play to the point of exhaustion.  I’ve never seen this actually happen, but I read a few articles on String Theory recently and I’m pretty sure that if we can get these bands to agree to inhabiting different dimensions, it can be done. I’ll wait. … … Ok, I’m bored. Back to the music…

The Cave Singers finished and the crowd jockeyed for positions closer to stage to wait for The Tallest Man on Earth, whose only average trait may actually be his height. On to stage he walked to greet us with his red flannel, his humble air, and his extremely gentle yet pronounced features. We were in the palm of his hand before he began to play. To witness an artist alone on stage pouring out every last ounce of energy is awe-inspiring.  Save for the few ever-present people who feel that talking loudly during a performance is a right bestowed on them by The Baby Jesus, the audience was quiet, relatively still (except during “King of Spain” of course), hanging on every note, noticing every drop of sweat. I would pay serious money to someday be able to hear the thoughts cycling through the minds of listeners during a show. I bet that would be unbearably interesting.

With a fairly similar set list as the day performance, it was easy to note the crowd’s favorites:  “King of Spain”, “Like the Wheel”, “Love is All”, and “You’re Going Back”.  My two favorites were “Thrown Right at Me”, crafted with grace, sung with depth; and “The Gardner” with gorgeous melodies, it’s a perfect platform for Kristian’s distinct and powerful voice.  Watch this artful video of The Tallest Man on Earth performing “The Gardner” by

The Tallest Man on Earth is a troubadour of great musical heft.  Though he is often compared to Bob Dylan, I’d really rather let him stand on his own.  After all, …

MP3 The Tallest Man on Earth: “Like a Wheel”

iTunes The Tallest Man on Earth downloads.

Tour dates via Pitchfork.

Footnote: * Read Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck if you want to know exactly what my dog Riley is like on a road trip.




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MusicFestNW 2010: A.A. Bondy

Courtesy of A.A. Bondy's Facebook Photo Page

(Photo from A.A. Bondy’s Social Media Page)

A.A. Bondy’s show on Thursday, September 9, 2010 at Mississippi Studios taught me a lesson about the power of an artist whose performances can be as shattering as an emotionally charged relationship.  Maybe I get a little too mentally caught up in my live music experience, but when I’m there, I’m there and vulnerable.

As Bondy carefully soundchecked I focused on his expressionless face, searching for a spark of pleasure, hope, or even an acknowledgement of how cool his situation really is (or seems to be from the outside).  Nothin’… -just pure concentration and seemingly zero notice of the large crowd gaping at him, though I have to think that he was acutely aware of us and that his duty to perfection intensified to an almost unbearable state as the minutes counted down to take-off.  Sipping a scotch, I started to wonder about his psyche: shy?  tortured?  preoccupied? achingly raw? or did he just hate us for being there to witness his imminent catharsis? When the hood on his sweatshirt was slammed shut by a tug at the drawstring and his glass of whiskey drained with a steady pace, I decided it was the first option, and the second, and the third, and maybe the fourth, but probably not the fifth, unless he’s some kind of masochist, which…??  I realize it’s not my place to psychoanalyze, but knowing that I was about to let him all the way through my head into my core with his music made me want to know a little something about him, even if i had to make it up.

Soundcheck is over, the rollercoaster ride continues.  Somewhere backstage the sweatshirt was traded for a faded red, short-sleeved Western shirt; he looked quite different, handsome, ready.  Instantly his lightly husky voice, which reminds me of the sound I imagine my knee making right after a scab is pulled slowly off, became mynext favorite attribute, second to the oddly beautiful, slightly unwell lyrics that I have admired for some time.  His melancholy air and gorgeous guitar work led me toward him like a wild forest animal wanting food, but fearing the feeder.  Though his soundcheck persona left me cold and untrusting, I was soon simultaneously back on my heels and ready to eat from his hand as he started singing about devils and other tortured-soul icons with a distant preoccupation.

The set was steadily captivating, painting vivid pictures both of places I wanted to see and places I didn’t, until the amp blew (or whatever happens to amps…I don’t really know, but something happened and the s*** quit working).  He was clearly provoked.  I was worried.  The show went from controlled, cavalier lawlessness to a long moment of pitching and lurching.  I’m not sure if his whiskey helped or hindered, but I’m going to go with the former because out of the wreckage Bondy’s genius kicked in and he piloted us out of a white-knuckle situation with stoic grace, an even hand, and a whiskey back. I felt handled.  The audience’s reaction to this resolution assured me that everyone else was as vulnerable as I, riding this train whose engineer carelessly played with his circumstance as a teenager does with his life, but whose prowess ultimately delivered us safely to a somewhat haunted, yet intriguing destination.

I don’t know if J.D. Salinger (d. Jan 27, 2010) met A.A. Bondy before he died, but if he had I think he would have had a Geppetto moment.  I really do.

Download When the Devil’s Loose on iTunes. Sept 1, 2009; Fat Possum Records.

Check out A.A. Bondy’s Daytrotter session.

September 16, 2010 ADDENDUM:  I had a chance to talk with Auguste (a.k.a Scott?) last evening before his show at Spaceland in L.A.  He’s gentle, extremely polite, friendly, and seems to appreciate and notice the things that make us all human.  I like him -not that it matters to him or to you, but… I like him.

After spending a few minutes around him, my perception of the afore-described soundcheck changed.  He’s not a hobo playing for dimes, he’s a professional.  Music is his career and he’s great at it, so of course he’s focused.

Oh yeah — and that wasn’t whiskey in his glass.  It was scotch.


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MusicFestNW 2010: Mark Olson

Thursday, September 9, 2010, Mark Olson, Soundcheck.

My first night at MFNW 2010 began at Mississississississ(!!)ippi Studios in Portland, Oregon.  Mark Olson, one of the founding members of The Jayhawks, took stage with a flight of soulful folk tunes, some of which were off his relatively new (July, 2010) offering Many Colored Kite.  Though he was dressed like my dad after a long day at the office, Olson’s rustic delivery made me feel like we should have been sitting on a porch in the bayou eating homemade pie and drinking whiskey with unicorns and puppies playing with hand grenades in the background.  Feelings, like art, aren’t always congruous.


Download Mark Olson’s Many Colored Kite on iTunes or Amazon (Released Jul 27, 2010. 2010 Rykodisc, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)


I realize that the Mark Olson and Gary Louris pairing is a whole different ballgame compared to Mark Olson alone, but I can’t resist offering the link to their Daytrotter session.  They truly are harmonic soul mates.




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