Mat Kearney’s relaunched acoustic version of City of Black & White kicks off its tour at the Englert

Mat Kearney, the Oregonian singer-songwriter known for songs such as “Closer to Love,” “Nothing Left to Lose,” and “Ships in the Night,” started his revisited album tour for City of Black & White in Iowa City.


Megan Nagorzanski

Mat Kearney performs at the Englert Theatre on Tuesday, October 15, 2019.

Kyler Johnson, Arts Reporter

Home of the Hawkeyes, the city of black and gold sang to a different color combo at the Englert Oct. 15, acting as the kick off point for singer-songwriter Mat Kearney’s City of Black and White Revisited tour.

The evening began with some sweet tunes from the opening act, fellow singer-songwriter Eli Teplin. Teplin set the night’s tone for what was to be an intimate interaction with the artist and the music — even if that meant a few chuckle-worthy blunders were in store.

After preparing the stage for a night of acoustics, Kearney came out under the golden lights, dressed in a warm colors to match the kindling resonance of his voice. Despite his musical style being of sweeter, home-grown disposition, the crowd’s cheers were roaring. The passion of the listeners was palpable.

Beginning with his titular piece, “City of Black & White,” Kearney’s revisitation to the rhythm steered away from such a heavy presence of instrumentation. A tapping beat constantly keeps the revised version in a specific cadence; it reframes the piece beyond its fluid rhythmic origins.

Related: Singer-songwriter Michael Joseph Nelson, known as Banners, releases first full album. 

The lights on the Englert stage played a story themselves; the golden spotlights shifted to a combination of red and blue, fading into and out of one another in “Fire & Rain.” Blending eventually into a deep violet hue, the lights framed the performance as much as the revised rhythms, painting Kearney’s words into a greater visual presence. 

In contrast to the artistic moments Kearney crafted for the audience through his music, he balanced his sentimental lyrics with a perfect dosage of humor.

Megan Nagorzanski
Mat Kearney performs at the Englert Theatre on Tuesday, October 15, 2019.

“Actually, I’m announcing my candidacy for presidency,” said Kearney.

The audience laughed to the common Iowa and Iowa City stereotypes that Kearney rattled off throughout the night. The dynamic of seemingly starting up a song only to stop his strumming for another joke became his own rhythm of performance.

Yet, as he moved into “Annie,” a song about needing to escape an environment that is drenched in toxicity, Kearney said the Iowa City stage was the first time he had sung that for an audience in nearly ten years. His last acoustic tour involving these songs dated back to in between the original City of Black & White record and his follow up Young Love.

Having been so long since his last performing of these songs, Kearney stumbled through one of his songs, openly admitting on stage he had forgotten the second verse. Along with his guitar disconnecting from the speaker system and a moment of the synthesizer having been flipped off-key, the audience laughed through all these idiosyncrasies with him.

Megan Nagorzanski
Mat Kearney performs at the Englert Theatre on Tuesday, October 15, 2019.

Despite moments where he fell short, Kearney had voices reverberating around the Englert Theatre. 

“I’m gonna be alright,”  repeatedly echoed in the chamber, the audience his informal choir.

At the end of the night, Kearney had not only formed a relationship with his audience, but seemingly with the city itself. Freestyling a verse into one of his closing numbers, the artist made references to the concert and Iowa City that earned a few hollers from the crowd. 

His music told the story of the night and the place, just as many of his tunes seek to capture. His search for poignancy and connection brought the sitting Englert crowd to a standing ovation at the end of the performance, leaving few words to be said. Nevertheless, Kearney finished as simply as he began. 

“I’ll see you next time,” he said.