The Tallest Man on Earth put on an incredible performance that will be very difficult to put into words, at Newport Folk Festival on Sunday. Being about the third to last artist of the festival, his set ran into Jackson Browne’s headlining performance; Kristian Matsson performed on perhaps one of the smallest stages and brought a crowd far too large for the small stage to handle. As Tune-Yards was finishing her set (where Kristian could be spotted watching secretly on the sidelines) crowds were already beginning to push their way in. Crowds got so large that state police were brought in to keep the fire lanes open, and unfortunately had to aggressively force many people trying to catch a desperate glimpse of Kristian, out from the lanes and into the rainy uncovered crowds surrounding the tent.
If you have not witnessed Kristian in action, it is something that stays in one’s mind forever. His presence is unchallenged. He pounds through each song, making it seem effortless to play such beautiful music as he switches between at least 5 guitars and a piano.
At Newport he chose mainly from his newest piece of (phenomenal) work, There’s No Leaving Now, but also a few songs from his EP, Sometimes The Blues is Just a Passing Bird, one from his first album (“Where Do My Bluebirds Fly” from Shallow Graves) as well as his theme song of sorts ”The King of Spain” off of The Wild Hunt during which Kristian paused to let the whole crowd sing a long for a verse or two. An intense moment- the rain pattering on the tent combined with the crowd singing loudly as if to assure Kristian that they knew each word to “The King of Spain” was something every person present would never forget.
Although a Tallest Man on Earth performance is difficult to describe, it is as you would dream it do be when listening to his music. Kristian is perfection, in his music and in his total presence.
Having already seen (the obnoxiously spelled) tUnE-yArDs last summer at New York City’s Pier 54 as part of a free concert series, I was pleasantly surprised in how much touring behind “w h o k i l l” - my personal favorite album from 2011 - for over a year has helped Merrill really hone her craft and improve beyond anything I could have expected. In other words, the show was just other-wordly.
For those who aren’t familiar, Merrill Garbus, the mastermind behind tUnE-yArDs donning her signature yellow tribal face paint, is looping wizard: with her recording equipment, she loops her vocals, drums, tambourines, and ukulele lines - all live, so you get to see how she builds layer upon layer to create her songs. In doing this, she creates a sort of indie-rock / tribal hybrid as she pairs her simple drum beats with layers of vocals and harmonies and her signature baritone ukulele. Adding to the layers was her backing band of a multi-instrumentalist who picked up everything from synthesizers to bass guitar to his own set of drums, and a pair of saxophonists who really helped flesh out her songs, all of whom were wearing matching yellow face paint.
The majority of the set consisted of songs from the critically acclaimed “w h o k i l l”, sprinkled with a song or two off her debut, “BiRd-BrAiNs”, but it was songs like “Bizness”, “My Country”, and “Powa” that really got the crowd going. “Bizness” had the entire venue dancing up a storm as the saxophonists traded off funky solos, “My Country” provided another dance party although this one was largely due to the fact that Merrill broke out her microKORG synthesizer and provided some exciting, slightly dissonant synth-lines. And then there was “Powa” before which some guy in the audience shouted “I have sex to this song”, generating laughter from the entire audience and Merrill thanking him for the kind gesture.
It seems as though after this leg of dates, Merrill is going to be taking a little break (which I’m hoping means writing a new album), so be sure to catch her through the end of the summer at countless North American festivals, several European tour dates, and if you’re in New York City, be sure to catch her again on June 30th at the World Financial District as she’s putting on a show as a part of the new free Summer Ecstatic concert series, for which more information can be found here.
As the story goes, when Frànçois Marry arrived in Bristol, England from France in 2003, he wrote a note accompanied by a picture asking for people to make music together with, taped it in his window, then proceeded to check out local car boot sales for instruments.
Starting out with a hodgepodge of found instruments (including a keyboard he played with his foot), Frànçois began playing live in Bristol in early 2004. 2005 - 2007 saw him collaborating with various local Bristol artists, as well as supporting the likes of Camera Obscura and Electrelane. 2006 saw the first release of what would come to be known as Frànçois And The Atlas Mountains, “The People To Forget” released on vinyl via Stitch-Stitch.
After spending some time in France recording a solo album “Plaine Inondable”, and a stint touring with Camera Obscura, Fràncois joined forces with rhythms provided by Rob Hunter (drummer for Rozi Plain) and Amaury Ranger on bass, then set to recording “E Volo Love” in 2010. Frànçois And The Atlas Mountains became the first artists signed to Domino France, and, now, with “E Volo Love”, slated to debut in Europe January 31st, promises to be an exciting, breakthrough year for this innovative circle of artists who continue to evolve and reconstruct their colorful, auditory pallette.
Combining pure 196Os French pop in the vein of Françoise Hardy, as well as an interest in the musical influences of Northern Africa (amongst many others), there is a playful expiramental element of tUnE-yArDs mixed with the soaring pop sophistication found in the likes of Dominque A and Wild Beasts.With a rootsy, primal, pop aesthetic as well as a penchant for romantic, dreamy musings tinged with a hint of melancholy, Frànçois And The Atlas Mountains are one part Beat Happening and two-thirds Michel Legrand. Intimate, yet spacial and full of wonderous interludes, this is ideal music to spend with just you and your headphones on long rail journeys.
Despite its release date, I expect this album to be one of my go-to Spring and Summer albums. Singing in French and English, both languages merge together perfectly to create a naturalistic and evocative sense of mood and place. Whether it be a song about sitting beside a fire, drinking alcohol (a favorite occupation of mine, thanks for making a song for that Mr. Marry) or going to bed with a lover at the end of a long night (or at the beginning of a frosty morning) there is something that brings to mind voyages, whether they be external or internal.
Listen to “Piscine”, the first single from “E Volo Love” below, and also check out the video for “Les Plus Beaux”.