Mat Kearney performed for a sold out crowd at Indianapolis’ Vogue Theatre when he brought his “Just Kids” tour to town with Judah & the Lion recently as part of the WTTS concert series.
With all the hype surrounding the event in the weeks leading up to the date this wasn’t a show where fans waited until the last possible minute to show up. Instead, the line to get in the doors stretched all the way down the block and when Judah & the Lion hit the stage at 8pm the room was already packed. The Nashville-based folk group performed a collection of foot-stomping anthems that got the crowd fully engaged early on, and the rootsy style was a fantastic warm-up for Kearney’s set.
Just after 9pm the lights dimmed and a recording of Anis Mojgani’s “Shake The Dust” began to play, prompting many fans to recite the poem word for word as it played. Kearney and his band emerged and started the night off with “Heartbreak Dreamer” and “Moving On (Just Kids),” both off his recent release, Just Kids.
Despite the album being fairly new, the majority of fans seemed to respond just as enthusiastically to the new songs as the classics. One particular highlight was “One Black Sheep,” a track that tells the story of Kearney’s upbringing in Oregon and eventual relocation to the mid-west to pursue music. By the time Kearney was heading in to the first chorus the entire room was dancing and clapping along to the beat.
The middle of Kearney’s set provided a bit of a throwback session for longtime fans as he played some of his older tracks such as “Where We Gonna Go From Here,” “Nothing Left To Lose” and “Undeniable.” During “Nothing Left To Lose” guitarist Tyler Burkum, who was a longtime member of the massively successful Audio Adrenaline, joined Kearney at his mic, providing a perfect harmony.
When Kearney performed his first single, “Undeniable,” he incorporated an Indiana-themed freestyle into the bridge of the song, dropping references to Larry Bird, the Colts, Broad Ripple, and downtown, earning him many cheers from the crowd.
Towards the end of Kearney’s set he welcomed Judah & the Lion back on stage to help him perform a rousing version of Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk.” Keeping the energy up Kearney and his band launched in to “Runaway” as bassist Phillip Moore danced around the front of the stage, encouraging fans to clap along. Mid-way through the song Kearney made his way into the audience and even up to the club’s balcony to sing along with fans before transitioning into a soul-stirring verse of U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” as he held a disco ball which threw light all across the room, making for a stunning visual effect.
By the end of the night it was clear fans felt they got their money’s worth. Kearney has been in the game for just over a decade at this point, and to some degree it’s been slow-going for him. He’s had moments of decent success with songs like “Nothing Left To Lose” and “Closer To Love,” but it doesn’t feel like he’s quite broken through to the “household name” level just yet. If his stop in Indianapolis was any indication though, the tides might be starting to turn. Dozens of fans were turned away from the sold-out show at the door, and the enthusiasm from those lucky enough to make it inside was absolutely overwhelming.
Kearney manages to showcase his versatility as an artist on-stage as effortlessly flows from rap, to pop, to folk, occasionally all within the same song. Very few artists could pull this off, but there’s an organic quality to Kearney’s performance that makes it feel natural when you see it performed live.
A Mat Kearney show is a concert-goer’s dream. The musicianship is top notch, the production is strong and well designed, Kearney is a phenomenal front-man, gliding across the stage as he raps, and he interacts with the crowd in a way that feels genuine. The fact that all of this is taking place in sold-out mid-sized clubs makes it all the better. All things considered, what more could a music fan ask for?
[lg_slideshow folder=\”2015/Mat Kearney in Indy/\”]