Mat Kearney | 03.14.15

live mat 75Kearney delivered the first of many words of gratitude, telling us he was “really touched and grateful” for the sold-out crowd, and had been “looking forward to this show for a really long time.”

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Ogden Theatre, Denver

After two disparate opening acts—one totally not my type, one totally my type but underwhelming—the lights dimmed and the verbalized outro to “Heartbreak Dreamer,” the first song on Mat Kearney’s latest album, played over the P.A. The song’s unique and effective; we knew we were in for a powerful night. As the outro wrapped up, Kearney and his band bounded on stage to start the song from the beginning. And when I say “bounded,” I mean no exaggeration; the singer was a ball of energy, rarely standing still (read: extremely difficult to photograph) and displaying a contagious abundance of energy. Next, Kearney & Co. moved effortlessly into “Moving On”—not coincidentally the second song on Just Kids, and from there treated us to “Count on Me.”

Taking a break to address the audience, Kearney delivered the first of many words of gratitude, telling us he was “really touched and grateful” for the sold-out crowd, and had been “looking forward to this show for a really long time.” Later in the set, a bit breathless from all the high-altitude movement, he complimented us on our resilience: “You’re like Olympic athletes here in Denver!” Later, he worked our city into a song, touching on various neighborhoods and places in the 303.

live mat 300He engaged the audience on more than one occasion, including male and female sing-a-long bits on “One Black Sheep.” After a rousing rendition of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” (where he was joined by openers Judah & the Lion; more on them later), he dove into the crowd, where he was carried along, security guard in tow. Back on stage, Kearney climbed atop the piano and delivered a couple stanzas of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name”—while holding a disco ball before three white spotlights, casting shimmers throughout the theater. Maybe it was awesome, maybe it was cheesy, maybe a little of both, but the crowd loved it.

Kearney’s talented band came front and center on “She Got the Honey,” especially the funkadelic bassist, whose contagious smile and calypso dance moves were an all-night treat. The artist utilized a special mic on “Sooner or Later” that made his vocals swell in an almost church choir–like fashion. The last two songs of the set were a veritable dance party, as we were treated first to “Billion” and then from the never-gets-old “Hey Mama” from 2011’s Young Love. When Kearney and band returned for an encore, he looked almost sheepish with all the applause. Again, he thanked us, saying, “I literally worked so hard on this album and this tour,” before giving us two more, Just Kids’ title track and the beautiful “Ships in the Night.”

I mean no offense when I say that Kearney is a nerd. He sported a black track jacket, white pants, and a long-brimmed black ball cap, and bounced around in groovy gray flannel tennis shoes. His demeanor—down-to-earth guy despite the major-label record deal and sold-out venue—embraced and inspired all of us; if a simple guy from Eugene, Ore., can do it, we can, too, whatever “it” is.

Openers Parachute and Judah & the Lion were two different beasts all together. On first, Judah delivered a bluegrass–alt-country–WTF set that would have been terrible (to this listener’s ears, at least) had they not incorporated synchronized dance moves and covers into their set. Sandwiched in the middle was Parachute, a band I was really looking forward to seeing. It was probably a combination of great anticipation and the preceding silliness, but they were nothing special, alas. | Laura Hamlett

Set list:

Heartbreak Dreamer
Moving On
Count on Me
Fire & Rain
Closer to Love
City of Black & White
One Black Sheep
New York to California
Nothing Left to Lose
Where We Gonna Go from Here
Uptown Funk
She Got the Honey
Sooner or Later
Hey Mama


Just Kids
Ships in the Night

Photos: Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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