In a tiny basement room directly underneath the stage at the Fox Theatre on Tuesday night, Mat Kearney sporadically bounced up and down, stretched his arms, and asked for a new shirt.
“Pre-show warm-ups,” Kearney said, though he was still more than an hour away from going on.
Nearby, Griffin House, the opening act, was sitting on a slightly tattered couch, tuning his guitar.
“When am I on?” he asked.
In five, a voice replied.
Five minutes later, House was on indeed, acoustic guitar in hand, met by a hesitant Boulder crowd unfamiliar with his music.
“Despite my haircut, we’re not really the Red Hot Chili Peppers,” House said, referring to his Mohawk.
The joke worked and as a result the crowd laughed and loosened up.
House, an Ohio native, played a 10-song, folk-rock set that included the song “I Remember.”
“This is a song about the war,” House said, prefacing the song. “It’s not a protest song, it’s just a story.”
The crowd received the song well and responded favorably to loaded lines like, “We start to wonder if politics make sense when religion is our best excuse for national defense.”
“If we don’t change our hearts, we repeat the past again,” House sang as he and guitarist Daniel Pettys- the only other person onstage-generated sound worthy of a full band.
House also won the crowd’s favor with the song “The Way I Was Made,” which tells the story of his grandparents and parents and events that took place within House’s genealogy.
“This is a song about my grandparents having sex,” House said, again eliciting laughter from the crowd.
Jokes aside, the song made no explicit mention of such a thing, and House left the stage to uproarious applause.
“Their sound was awesome,” said Cameron Mosser, who came from Denver to see the show. “The songs were hilarious. I don’t think anyone expected him to sing a song about his grandparents having sex.”
House set the stage nicely for Kearney, an Oregon native who found his way into the music industry after picking up a guitar in college.
Kearney’s music maintains an acoustic base peppered with hip-hop, pop and spoken verse, all of which enhance his core messages of hope and perseverance in the face of conflict.
A laid-back Kearney walked onto the stage alone and began playing “Where We Gonna Go From Here,” a calm, slightly melodic song from his recent album, “Nothing Left to Lose,” which was released last March.
As the song progressed, Kearney’s band mates joined him one-by-one, introducing new layers of instrumentation to the song: first, the accordion, then the xylophone and finally the bass guitar.
After his first song, Kearney jumped immediately into a hard-hitting song titled “Bullet,” which is about personal sacrifice within a relationship.
“I would take a bullet for you, I would cross any line or swim across the sea,” Kearney sang as members of the crowd threw their hands in the air and kept the rhythm with their heads and bodies.
“How we doing tonight here in Colorado?” Kearney asked during a musical bridge.
The crowed cheered fervently.
After switching to an electric guitar for the song “Can’t Break Her Fall,” Kearney sat down at his keyboard and spent some time visiting with the crowd.
“This is one of my favorite places to play,” he said.
The crowd responded with even more passionate cheering, as if to both validate and thank Kearney for his words.
Kearney went on to play “In the Middle,” which details letting go of the past and persevering through life’s trials. Kearney invited the crowd to join in singing the chorus, and with one voice they proclaimed:
“I’m gonna be alright, I’m gonna be alright, with you by my side.”
Kearney shared more of his heart through the songs “Girl America,” “Wait,” and “What’s a Boy to Do.” In his song “Undeniable,” Kearney free-styled a series of Boulder-inspired verses that included the Fox Theatre and the Flatirons to the immense pleasure of the crowd.
Toward the end of his set, Kearney spoke with the crowd about the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy.”
“This is the first month I’ve ever heard my music on television, which is strange,” Kearney said, referencing the broadcast of his songs “All I Need” and “Crashing Down” on “Grey’s Anatomy.” “Doctors making out, yeah. That’s what I dreamed of when I was a little child.”
Kearney ended his set with his title-tracked radio single “Nothing Left to Lose,” to which the crowd sang along with almost completely.
As he and his band left the stage, the crowd urged him back with an explosive ovation, and a solitary Kearney appeared back onstage and satiated the crowd with his song “Won’t Back Down,” through which he left the crowd to ponder these lyrics:
“I won’t back down, I won’t turn around and around, and I won’t back down, doesn’t matter what comes crashing down, I’m still gonna stand my solid ground.”
After signing a girl’s poster and shaking a few hands, Kearney exited the stage for the night and left the crowd to reflect on the show.
“It was definitely amazing,” said Jason Walkow, a freshman pre-med major. “I wish he’d come here more often.”
Walkow’s friend, senior e-bio major Chris Gray, shared his sentiment.
“He’s so lively,” Gray said. “I hope he doesn’t get too big to come back here.”