Mat Kearney Stands Out on Stage

Photo by Becca Damante '17 | Mat Kearney performed at the Pearl Street Night Club in downtown Northampton.

Photo by Becca Damante ’17 | Mat Kearney performed at the Pearl Street Night Club in downtown Northampton.

Becca Damante ’17
Arts Editor

Before I get started, let me tell you about the first time I saw Mat Kearney. I was in Nashville with my mom at an intimate venue called the Mercy Lounge to see Diane Birch and Andrew Belle perform. After the concert, Birch stood behind the merchandise table to sign posters next to a cool and casual-looking 30-year-old. I thought he looked familiar but couldn’t connect his face to a name. Little did I know, that man was Mat Kearney.

While his casual demeanor might not make him stand out in a crowd, he certainly is a force to be reckoned with on stage. His set at Northampton’s Pearl Street last Friday, Oct. 16 was more than just impressive musically; Kearney spent a good portion of his 90-minute set running across the stage and jumping up and down with fervor.

Kearney is best described as “completely in the zone.” He played five full songs before he even addressed the audience, taking few breaks in between selections to breathe, let alone have a drink of water. It was only when someone yelled that they had cookies after the fifth song that he really started to talk to the audience, telling them that he had walked around Smith earlier that day and was feeling the effects of the Greek food he had eaten. Later in the show, he also spoke directly with the audience, asking when he had been to Northampton before. The audience agreed he came for an acoustic show a few years ago, making this his first-ever full band show in Northampton.

With Kearney’s intense concentration on the music, he kept conversation with the audience to a minimum.  But most songs involved audience participation, especially because the audience seemed to know most of the words to every song. At one point, Kearney asked the audience to sing with him on “One Black Sheep.” He asked the women to sing a melody and the men to respond with, “Hey.” But after contemplating this for a second, Kearney said, “That’s almost unfair. Pick whatever part you want. It’s not gender specific.” It seems like Kearney would fit in at Smith just fine. 

Perhaps my favorite part of Kearney’s concert was his performance of “Runaway.” He started the song standing next to his drummer, who was on a raised platform on the back of stage right. About a minute into the song, Kearney catapulted into the audience, ran back about 15 feet and began to take selfies with people in the audience. A few selfies are pretty cool, but Kearney stopped to take pictures with at least 20 fans. If that wasn’t enough, he then ran back onto the stage and stood next to the drummer with an illuminated disco ball that might just have been the highlight of the concert.

Kearney’s concert wasn’t all high energy, however. Although most of the songs were upbeat, there were a few moments sprinkled in for contrast that really allowed Kearney’s inner softie to come out. One of the best was “New York to California,” which Kearney performed center stage at the piano. He then followed with “In the Middle.” During the bridge, he invited the audience to sing along: “I’m gonna be alright/I’m gonna be alright/If you’re by my side.” He joked around: “That’s only okay. That’s subpar, don’t you think? We can do better. Don’t be humble,” and the result was absolutely breathtaking.

Kearney’s show ended with a dynamic three-song encore that included a cover of “Dancing in the Dark,” where he invited the opening act, Parachute, to join him on stage. A cross between Matt Nathanson and Andy Grammer, Parachute’s opening set was highly entertaining, especially the solos from their saxophone player. The combination of Parachute and Kearney was even more exciting, and the loud singing and energetic dancing of the audience made it was clear that they really enjoyed it.

Though Kearney comes across as your average musician — dressed in black from head to toe with his signature cap — he is much more than that. His impressive high-energy set, angelic voice and thoughtful lyrics made him a real stand-out on the stage.

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