Photos and review: Mat Kearney at the Ogden Theatre in Denver, Colorado - Reverb

Live review: Mat Kearney @ the Ogden Theatre

Sometimes concerts are just like awkward get-togethers with someone you don’t know all that well, and everyone has to work a little harder to connect.

It was like that Friday night with Mat Kearney at the Ogden Theatre, and it didn’t help that the singer-songwriter also struggled a bit with the altitude.

He came out strong with “Fire & Rain” – jaunty in his now-trademark newsboy cap – and seemed to be all business straight through “Young Dumb and In Love,” energetically leaping about with his guitar.

But halfway through “Count On Me,” it was clear something was up. Whatever you think about his soft-peddled, smoochy-rock style, Kearney’s voice is arguably one of the most palatable out there – you could listen to the guy sing a grocery list. Unless, of course, it goes out on him entirely, as it did a few times.

“I need some oxygen,” he said when the song was over, after he finally did catch his breath.

He launched right into “Down,” and then, ironically, swung behind the piano for “Breathe In Breathe Out,” where his voice finally regained its solid tones, although his discomfort was still evident in some disjointed phrasing.

Just when it seemed as though he intended to run through the show rapid-fire without a pause between songs, he finished “Closer to Love” with a thank you, and then asked how everyone was doing, before wondering if we’d be singing along with “Nothing Left to Lose,” which the sold-out crowd did, at first tentatively, and then with more gusto toward the end.

The discussion that followed felt forced, though. “You guys are awesome,” he said, but it didn’t ring true yet – we hadn’t really bonded. We needed something from him, and he gave it to us by asking for a drummer from the audience. He got it in the form of twenty-something Nathan, whose confirmation that he had a Ludwig kit at home was good enough for Kearney. He pulled Nathan up on the stage and set him up with … a 1940s suitcase, on which Nathan foot-tapped gleefully to the beat of a masterful mash-up of Kearney’s “All I Have” and “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love” from Usher (featuring Pitbull), with a little of Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” thrown in, as well.

From then on we were all BFFs. We gave back by enthusiastically supporting the goofy, old-school guitar solo in “Here We Go;” Kearney returned the love with his second wind by doing “Runaway Car” as he milled through the crowd. His impromptu rap during “Undeniable” – peppered with references to Denver and the fact that he’d run out of breath in the first song – was funny and endearing, and when he returned to start off the encore with “Ships in the Night,” he revealed that the song’s video had been shot in the area the previous day, including at “that abandoned amusement park” known as Lakeside.

Opener Robert Francis joined Kearney for that song and then “a new song we just wrote during the break,” which wound up being an appealingly manly version of Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain.”

Of course “Hey Mama” was the finale, the musical equivalent of a cheery hope-to-see-you-again-soon.

Set list

Fire & Rain
Young, Dumb and In Love
Count on Me
Down
Breathe In Breathe Out
Closer to Love
Nothing Left to Lose
All I Have with DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love (Usher feat. Pitbull) and Super Bass (Nicki Minaj)
Learning to Love Again
Here We Go
Runaway Car
She Got the Honey
All I Need
Undeniable
encore
Ships in the Night
Set Fire to the Rain (Adele)
Hey Mama

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Kyle Wagner is a regular contributor to Reverb and travel editor at The Denver Post.

Andrew Bisset is a Denver photographer and a new contributor to Reverb.