Concert review: Mat Kearney and Leagues close the age gap at the Pageant, Wednesday, October 5

Mat Kearney at the Pageant, October 5, 2011

Abby Gillardi

Leagues opened the night with an ebullient blend of Phoenix-meets-Maroon-5 with a sunny, yet love-wan disposition. The crowd, full of high schoolers, collegiates and older couples, welcomed the band with cheers and dancing.

Lead singer Thad Cockrell danced with pride and challenged the audience to “dance like idiots,” vowing, “That’s what I’m going to be doing.” Guitarist, keyboardist and back-up vocalist Tyler Burkum, switched between keys and electric as he sang falsetto melodies to fill out Cockrell’s sound.

Mat Kearney appeared on stage with an acoustic guitar and full band that included both Burkum and drummer Jeremy Lutito from Leagues. Kearney and company broke into “Count on Me” from 2011′s “Young Love.” Sampled voices of children singing played between choruses backed by keys and warm bass thrum. On “Young Dumb and in Love,” Lutito’s Paul-Simon-esque drums supported the song with an inviting tempo. Kearney sang the chorus and eyed the adoring audience. “Fire and Rain” featured a seemingly Cold-Play-inspired melody and hand claps that the audience clung to like a life raft in a hurricane. The audience moved and embraced their dates as single women threw their arms toward Kearney and guitarist/apparent hunk Burkum.

Kearney expressed his affection for St. Louis — “What a beautiful day to be in town,” he said — and jumped into “Down,” strumming his brown acoustic. The audience trailed behind Kearney as the song switched between its “oh, oh, oh,” choruses and Tom-Petty-influenced verses. Kearney said, “If you know any of these songs feel free to sing along.” The audience cheered and rose to the challenge on “Breathe In Breathe Out” from 2006′s “Nothing Left to Lose.”

The crowd threw their arms over their heads and waved back and forth as “Closer to Love’s” stutter-step digital drums and bubbly keys were matched by Burkum’s guitar accents. Kearney sang, “You pull me closer to love.” Women and a few boyfriends jumped out their seats in adoration. “Sooner or Later” offered up impressive palm-mute guitar work and soloing from Burkum. Kearney’s quickly-spoken narrative bleeding over a stop-charge from the rhythm section brought the song into full relief.

Kearney asked the crowd what they wanted to hear and someone yelled out, “Freebird!” Kearney replied, “Freebird. … Way to be that guy” and laughed as he settled on a real suggestion. “Chicago” shaded the show toward intimacy as the lights dropped and Kearney played solo acoustic. Kearney improvised a nod to St. Louis on the final verse: “Meet me in St. Louis at the Pageant on Wednesday night.” “Where We Gonna Go from Here?” continued the quieter, subdued portion of the set. Kearney hit every falsetto note at the end of each chorus.

The energy level shot back toward the roof with “Here We Go.” Kearney inquired, “You all ready?” On “Runaway Car” Kearney descended to the floor with a wireless microphone, sang and greeted the audience with pats and handshakes as he walked over the long tables. The jungle beat-rhythm of “She Got The Honey” stirred the pot with vocal distortion and rap-singing. Kearney moved to the piano for “All I Need” and joked about making a ballad out of Nelly songs.

Fan favorite “Undeniable” employed an Everlast vocal tact and featured Neil Young electric guitar stylings. “Nothing Left To Lose” rounded out Kearney’s set as Burkum’s falsetto once more filled out Kearney’s sound.

The band returned with sleeper hit “Ships in the Night” from “Young Love.” Kearney engaged in the piano-driven pre-choruses, “Turn the lights down low,” as the house lights dimmed in coordination. Kearney brought singer Cockrell from Leagues back to the stage for a cover of Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks.” The eighties-tempered version didn’t feature any whistling but made up for it with more filled out instrumentation and guitar play. Kearney left the stage mid-song and returned wearing a Pujols Cardinals jersey and danced like a fan-boy celebrating the evening’s necessary victory.

The encore concluded with the fat, bassy synth and swinging hand claps of radio hit “Hey Mama.” As the song faded over looped “oh, oh, ohs,” Kearney wore the Pujols shirt like a Superman cape and soared off stage to wild applause.