When Strand Of Oaks came on stage at Town Hall on Wednesday night, I thought to myself, “Oh, more quiet woodsy folk music played by guys with huge beards.” Even though I was stereotyping and I actually enjoy that kind of music, I was relieved when the Pennsylvanian duo wasn’t exactly what I expected. Singer/guitarist, Timothy Showalter had a beautiful voice, and wasn’t afraid to let things get loud. Backed by creative, booming drums, they reminded me of Field Report on steroids. They had their soothing mellow moments, but they really came into their own more and more as the volume increased.
Showalter’s self-deprecating humor helped keep the audience on our toes. He told us to put on a Drake song and watch the drummer dance, and even admitted, “I know I look like a homeless person.” But he explained himself well. “We need to laugh,” he said, “because these songs are really sad.” Sad, yes. But awfully beautiful as well.
Very few musicians are idolized by their fan bases as much as the Tallest Man On Earth. Playing his second sold out night in a row in New York, Kristian Matsson (his real name) was greeted with thunderous applause when the audience recognized each track, and then again at the end of each and every song. Everyone there was in absolute awe of the little man with such a huge and delicate voice. He had the crowd in a trance. All of his witty comments were eagerly laughed at and every moment was savored.
When an audience member annoyingly requested “Freebird,” Matsson responded by playing a new tune, one he had never played live before. After saying “This one is for the guy who said he wanted something different,” he led a raucous rendition of “Criminals” that had everyone mesmerized. His warble was in fine form as he ran through most of his new album, There’s No Leaving Now, as well as highlights from all of his previous releases. The new album is without the urgent, frantic quality present on his previous records, and the more relaxed sound translated splendidly live, making his catalog more varied without compromising quality.
The tender piano title track off his new record was a definite highlight, the smooth, sustained piano sounds contrasting beautifully with his rugged voice. Another lovely contrast occurred in his final song, the sweet “Thrown Right At Me.” After the first chorus, Matsson’s wife, singer-songwriter Amanda Bergman, joined him on vocal duties for the rest of the song. Her sweet voice rose above his and seemed to take the gruffness out when they sang, “You’re so beautiful now.” They were looking right into each others’ eyes.