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Nathanson ignites “Fireworks” at Chicago show

A hush falls over the mostly college-aged crowd as the patchwork curtains at the House of Blues pull open to expose a lone microphone standing in the center of the stage. Matt Nathanson, 30-year-old singer/songwriter, walks toward it, acoustic guitar in hand, with a genuine smile visible to the entire audience.

The budding artist kicked off his tour with rising pop-rocker Gavin DeGraw at the House of Blues on Jan. 18. Playing mostly from his new record, “Beneath These Fireworks,” Nathanson jammed out acoustic renditions of “Angel” and “Suspended.” Matt Fish accompanied Nathanson on the cello, executing an hour and a half of music perfectly.

Although “Fireworks” is his first release with Universal Records, Nathanson is by no means a virgin in the record industry. He has nearly half a dozen independently released albums under his belt, most recently the 2002 “When Everything Meant Everything” EP. Five complete albums, dating back to his years at Pitzer College in California, reflect his organic sound. Most songs, including his first single on “Fireworks” titled “Suspended,” are a uniquely balanced blend of pop, folk and rock.

Although he’s taken the leap to a big recording company, Nathanson found the differences between recording as an independent artist and a signed musician to be slight.

“[Recording independently] feels just as much like ‘This is going to be great!'” Nathanson said in an interview after his House of Blues performance. “It’s your child, you’re [giving] birth [to] your kid. It’s the difference between birthing your kid in a hospital and birthing them at home with a midwife.”

As a child of the ’80s, Nathanson recalls a KISS concert he attended at age 13 as the moment he decided to become a musician.

Nathanson spent his childhood in Boston and attended high school in New Hampshire, a place he describes as “so cold, the next stop is Canada.” After graduation, he went back and and forth between West Coast colleges and Southern institutions until he eventually landed at Pitzer College in Southern California.

It was during his years at Pitzer that Nathanson met Mark Weinberg, a talented songwriter and performer. Weinberg and Nathanson started off as enemies in competing bands but eventually became allies.

“One day, instead of having him be my rival, it was like, ‘We should write together,’ because we both like Def Leppard and we both had a healthy appreciation for the metal,” Nathanson said.

It was this pairing that catapulted Nathanson’s writing. On “Fireworks,” Nathanson and Weinberg co-wrote most of the 12 songs on the album. Mix that collaboration with experienced producer Ron Aniello, and “Beneath These Fireworks” was born.

Nathanson considers himself lucky to have the talented accompaniment on “Fireworks.”

“It feels like a really good representation of the songs,” Nathanson said. “The people who played on it, Matt [Fish], David [Garza], they really paid attention to what the songs were doing. I was lucky to have them. Sometimes players’ egos get in the way of the song and it’s really important to listen to what the song wants.”

Although Nathanson has been releasing music for the past decade, it wasn’t until the 2003 summer film “American Wedding” that he received space on a major soundtrack with his cover of British band James’ song “Laid.” Nathanson’s version is now one of his concert staples.

Despite a growing fan base, Nathanson sees his career as progressing slower than most artists, which he welcomes.

“I like to think I’m taking the stairs,” Nathanson said. “Some people’s careers just sort of happen, and they [suddenly] go from zero to 60. I’m taking the stairs. It’s nice.”

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