Five quick thoughts on Swedish pied piper Kristian Matsson's performance at the Wexner Center last night:
(1) For a folkie, he really works it. Matsson performs all by his lonesome, but he's enough of a commanding physical presence to sustain an audience's attention for an hour. He was contantly hunching over, gallivanting around the stage, tumbling backwards into his chair or piano bench. He had serious magnetism about him.
(2) That said, at times I felt like I was watching a politician rather than a musician. Matsson clearly desires to be a big star, which no one should begrudge him. (Performing in the "Black Box on Mershon Stage," he more than once referenced his hopes to be playing the full auditorium next time he visits Columbus.) Still, his shtick felt as insincere as a campaign promise.
(3) The Tallest Man on Earth may be a solo act, but he tours with more guitars than many full-sized bands. And wow, does he know how to use them. My favorite aspect of his performance was the gorgeous sounds he wove with his fingers. His music is plainly beautiful; combined with his charisma, it's no surprise people flock to him like he was the second coming of fellow nasal troubadour Jeff Mangum.
(4) Really, though, he's more like the second coming of David Gray. That was the musician who came to mind last night, particularly when Matsson perched at the piano for the title track from "There's No Leaving Now." It reminds me how much the packaging plays into how we process music. Take away Matsson's skinny jeans and hipster record label, and put him on Mix 107.9, and next thing you know he'd be opening for The Fray.
(5) In contrast to Matsson's show, opener Strand of Oaks felt raw and unwashed, which certainly wasn't a problem given frontman Timothy Showalter's penchant for soul-bearing. With drums, the resemblance to fellow Midwest blue-collar sad-sacks Magnolia Electric Co. surfaced. Matsson could learn a lot from Showalter's lyrics, which cut to his core even when shrouded in symbolism. Obviously Matsson is doing well for himself by keeping even his heartrending tracks light and breezy, but it's nice when the words and ideas stick with you as much as the pretty melodies.