Oct 21, 2011

How I Met Mat's Muse (Almost)

Mat Kearney and his band rock the house at Bogarts in Cincinnati, Ohio, Saturday night, September 24, 2011. Sadly, this was my best photo of the night.   I really need a better camera.

Ah, how I would have loved to change the title of this post by one word.  How I would have liked to have one decent photo from the Mat Kearney concert Babs and I attended in Cincinnati last weekend--perhaps even a picture of the star of the show.  It would have made a nice bookend to our last Mat Kearney show in the summer of 2010.

But to paraphrase that famous line from Top Gun: "I had the shot, there was no danger, so I. . .let it pass."

Babs and I had a fantastic time Saturday night, September 24, 2011 at the Mat Kearney show at Bogarts in Babs' hometown.  We ate at Honey, a great new restuarant in Cincinnati's Northside neighborhood, enjoyed some great conversation that didn't involve being interrupted by our Little Feller while waiting for the show to start, and were treated to an outstanding performance by our favorite artist.  Nonetheless, the evening came to be defined--at least for me--by a great opportuinity that I let slip away: the chance to say hi to the muse behind Mat's most recent work--his wife Annie.

Mat Kearney's latest album entitled Young Love is a triumph of pop songwriting both in terms of its sound--infectious hooks, memorable melodies, and lots of catchy beats--and it's lyrical content. Mat brings his gift for thoughtful, spiritually influenced songwriting to bear on pop music's most popular subject matter--romantic love.  His lyrics provide fresh perspective and a surprising amount of depth to the thrill we've all felt when love is brand new.  The sentiments have been expressed in a millions songs: "you can count on me", "I'm gonna win your heart",  "I love you" but Mat makes those often trite ideas new and exciting again in just the way that a new love can feel like the first and only love there ever was in the world.

As with most songwriters one can never be sure how much of song is inspired by real events and how much is poetic license. Still I get the sense that Mat is exuberantly telling his own stories in these songs.    For those of us who have been longtime fans, we feel like we've been on the journey with him.  We were there when the songs were more brooding and introspective--a single man out in the world with Nothing Left to Lose.  We got hints that someone serious was in his life in songs like "New York to California" and "Annie" on his second major label release City of Black and White, and then joined him in euphoric joy as he reflected on the meeting and ultimate marrying of the woman of his dreams in Young Love.  As a result Annie looms larger than life in his recent work.  We hear details of how they first met in the album's bouncy first single "Hey Mama", get snippets of further early encounters as Mat makes it his mission to win her over in "She Got the Honey",  and a wedding photo of Mat in his brown bow tie and Annie in her gypsy necklace in "Young, Dumb, and in Love."  Lest we forget that young love has its challenges as it matures, we also get "Ships in the Night", a song that deals with those fights that come up between young newlyweds as the honeymoon is wearing off.

With a setlist heavy on the Young Love material, that Saturday night in Cincinnati you could hear Mat's wife everywhere even though she was nowhere to be seen.  Here's my review of the concert and a list of the songs from the Bogart's show with links to videos on youtube when available.

The Review

The evening opened with Leagues, a new band that played a generous eight songs in the opening set.  Eight is a lot for an opening band, but fortunately Leagues earned the goodwill of the audience with catchy pop rock tunes (the early songs especiaqlly were quite good) a tight band, and a lead singer  with a decent pipes, an appropriately self-depracating manner and the disarming physique of a thirty-something teddy bear.  Thad Cockerell's unself-conscious performance and obvious love for the music made for a great start to the night.

Mat opens the show with "Count on Me."  This video was from another show on this tour at the Music Farm in Charleston, South Carolina.

Mat's show couldn't have been more different from the one we saw last summer (Read my review of that concert here).  Last summer the show was quiet and intimate--just Mat, his right-hand man Tyler Burkum, a couple of guitars, and a keyboard.  This time the show was loud--more rock n' roll than folksinger--with Mat backed by a full band.  Tyler was still there, though I didn't recognize him (it seemed like he had a different haircut and may have lost some weight?).  Last summer's show at the Alban Mat was virtually unknown to his audience, this year the joint was packed with fans who sang along to every song, new and old, fervently.  It reminded me a lot of the Mumford and Sons' show I saw last year with Mat and the band similiarly awed by the enthusiastic feedback from the crowd.  Highlights from the night included Mat's performance of "Chicago", an old favorite containing some Cincinnati references that got a big response from the crowd.  Another big moment was when Mat climbed up on the barrier between the audience on the stage during "Runaway Car", and then impulsively decided to jump down among us and take a little walkabout among the fans while he sang.  The crowd was quite enthused about this bit of daredeviltry, and we caught a couple of glimpses of him as he came within a few feet us, lit up by camera lights and being grasped at by hundreds of hands.  I honestly was a little worried for his safety at the hands of overwraught fans but I figured as long as he was still singing, he must be okay.  Eventually he emerged from the crowd and climbed back on stage to finish the song, declaring at the end that the experience was both awesome and frightening.

The impromptu rhyming in "Undeniable" was a crowd pleaser as well, and during the encore the opening band Leagues, joined Mat onstage for a cover of Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks."  Mat closed the show with the lead single from Young Love, "Hey Mama" and left the crowd shouting for "one more song" even after the house lights had gone up.

Here's a video that I picked up from the web by one of the other concertgoers at the Bogart's performance, Saturday night, September 24, 2011.  My videos were again plagued by sound issues that make them completely unlistenable.  This is "Hey Mama" the first single of Mat's new album and the final song of the evening.

It was a fantastic evening.  My only quibble, a very minor one, was not getting to hear my favorite song from the new album, "Learning to Love Again."  Along with "Rochester" it was one of only two songs from the new record that didn't get played.  And given the up-tempo mood of this show, and the quiet, acoustic tenor of those two songs, I understand the omission.  I can't wait to see the show again in Chicago in November with my best friend who was responsible for introducing me to Mat's music.  It will be his first Mat Kearney show and I know he won't be disappointed.

The Set List

1. Count on Me
2. Young, Dumb, and In Love
3. Fire and Rain
4. Down
5. Breathe In, Breathe Out
6. Closer to Love
7. Sooner or Later
8. Chicago
9. Chasing the Light
10. Here We Go Again
11. Runaway Car
12. She Got the Honey (this is a live version from the current tour)
13. All I Need
14. Undeniable
15. Nothing Left to Lose


16. Ships in the Night
17. Pumped Up Kicks
18. Hey Mama

When the show ended, we headed for the door, looking for the merchandise table where I could do my part to keep the Kearney show on the road and in the recording studio.  We somehow missed it and suddenly found ourselves out on the street.  We asked a security person nearby where the merch table was and she told us that it was inside, but regrettfully she could not let us back in.

I was ready to give up and head for home, but Babs insisted that we should go back to where we entered and see if those security guys would let us in.  She finally talked me into it, and sure enough they let us right back in.

So we're waiting by the merchandise table while they went in the back to get a t-shirt in my size, when Barbara grabs me by the arm and nods towards a petite dark-haired woman with a vaguely bohemian air and one of those backstage VIP badges around her neck.  She was standing apart from the crowd, alone, as if maybe waiting for someone.  "Isn't that Mat Kearney's wife?" my wife whispered.  I looked hard, while at the same time trying to avoid appearing to stare.  "I don't know. . ." I replied.  The only pictures I'd seen of Annie were photos of her and Mat's wedding that I come across on the web, and I just wasn't sure.  "Maybe. . ."

"You should ask her," Babs prodded.  But I was hesitant.  I'm the kind of person who never wants to be a bother.  I won't ask the waiter to fix my dish if they bring it out wrong, I rarely ask to "speak to the manager."  And I feel rude and intrusive approaching famous people (or almost-famous people and most certainly the spouses of famous people).  I worried about feeling embarrassed if she wasn't who we thought she was.  I worried about looking "uncool" and vaguely creepy if she was.  I worried, and dithered and vacilated while my wife continued to give me whispred updates as to where she was in our vicinity.  At one point she was standing right next to us, and I finally decided, "Fine, I'm gonna do it.  Worst case she tells us to leave her alone, best case we get to meet Mat's muse and maybe even get a picture.  How cool would that be?  A picture with Mat at the first concert, a picture with his wife at the next. . .yeah, I'm gonna do it.  Right. . . now."  But when I turned to ask, "Excuse me are you Mat Kearney's wife?" she was walking purposefully away towards the stage area.  The moment had passed, the opportunity had been missed.

Babs, as perceptive as ever saw the whole thing in my face.  "You were about to ask her, weren't you?  I can't believe she walked away right when you were about to say something!"  Later that night back at her parents house in Dayton, we googled up those wedding pictures and confirmed Barbara's hunch.  The woman we had seen was indeed Annie Kearney.

Babs didn't seemed too bothered by it, but it bothered me for awhile.  I wasn't disappointed so much by the missed opportunity itself, but by my own hesitation.  In a way, it made me decide that I've spent too much of my life holding back, being hesitant when it wouldn't hurt to be bold.  For someone who likes to talk as much as I do and who is as opinionated as I am, I have been, on occasion, surprisingly shy to speak up.  There was no moral imperative here, obviously, but I felt that I let a unique little opportunity slide by and I realized that perhaps I've done that a lot with things that matter more in my life.  They say you should sieze the day, but instead I've often been one to let the day go by, worried about what someone might think.

The missed opportunity to meet the muse behind Mat's music made me decide that in the future, I will be more fearless, that I will hesitate less, that I will take more risks, and worry less about how I look to others or what they might think.

Babs and Me, still young (basically) and in love.