It’s no secret that my favorite venue of all time is House of Blues in Chicago.  In my mind, nothing compares to the architecture, history and overall vibe of the place.  However, I stopped by Lincoln Hall on Sunday night to catch Chicago’s very own Andrew Belle perform and I will say that Lincoln Hall has definitely made its way up there as another one of my favorite venues, at least in Chicago anyway.

Andrew Belle

Seeing a show at House of Blues is an experience in itself, no matter which band you’re going there to watch.  Lincoln Hall instead, absorbs the vibe of the crowd to create a different atmosphere at every show.  The sound quality is fantastic – probably the best I’ve ever experienced.  The size is very intimate and the place is simple, allowing you to focus on the brilliance on stage.

He’s a fairly new artist, he’s from Chicago, and I’m always curious to see what kind of musicians this city is putting out.  (I’ve also been somewhat consumed in the hip hop industry for the last couple months and have been needing a break so, I was looking forward to checking out this show.)  You may have noticed recently that Andrew Belle’s music has been making the rounds on all your favorite TV shows.  I’ve always liked what I’ve heard from him.  My favorite track “Open Your Eyes” was featured on Grey’s Anatomy last season.

Overall, it was a good night.  Belle played with his full band, which added a lot of different layers and elements to the music that really don’t come across on his albums.  However, the constant fog emanating from the stage was a bit of an annoyance.  One song after another, starting off softly, building into an eventual explosion with the band blowing your face off, this became tiresome as well.  In the grand scheme of things there is nothing wrong with that type of vibe, but when it happens during every song, there’s no opportunity to appreciate it.

Sorry to say that I guess mostly, Belle’s performance was disappointing.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a big fan of Andrew Belle.  This guy is a lyrical genius who tells some incredible stories through his music and he has a beautiful voice.  But the band overpowered him and were a distraction from the real talent.  However, the performance did show me that Andrew Belle is a diverse artist and not your run-of-the-mill acoustic, singer/songwriter.

In general, the show was very Coldplay-esque.  If you’re into that type of sound, I definitely recommend checking Belle out.  However, if you’re expecting to hear what you have on his albums, there’s not of much of a connection there.

Matt Hires

The night wasn’t a complete disappointment.  It was actually far from that.  Matt Hires flew in from Tampa to open the show.  I thought I knew what to expect from him.  I had seen him 3 and a half years prior at House of Blues here in Chicago.  I liked his performance back then, enough to remember his name.  More recently I had heard his song, “Honey, Let Me Sing You A Song,” here and there.  I was looking forward to catching him perform again, but not necessarily excited.

I can now say that watching Hires perform made me want to come home and book a flight to see his next show.  I am completely blown away by how much he’s grown as a performer – it was like night and day.  And although it was obvious that the talent was always there, the performance quality was lacking before.  Hires went from shy and slightly boring (sorry Matt!) to an incredibly charming, seasoned musician – and talk about someone that can tell a story!  His set was completely captivating and I’m not sure I ever took my eyes off of him.  (Not bad for someone that’s on stage with only his guitar).  Matt Hires has so much character in his voice (think Mumford, Bob Dylan, Wilco, Ryan Adams), but at the same time he has a sound all of his own.  With a vibrato unlike any I’ve ever heard before, plus his whistling which packs a punch slightly less than that of Andrew Bird, but adds more of a soothing melody, I had no idea what just hit me.  He made it all look so easy.

What Hires is able to do on stage is anything but simple.  It is raw, honest, and real.  I think I even used the word “magical” that night and I was revived.  It reminded me of my passion for music.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember why I wanted to work in this industry in the first place, as Lady Gaga and American Idol are what people are paying attention to.  It’s so easy to become jaded and cynical.  But Matt Hires reminded me why I love this business and the kind of music that matters to me.  I feel like I owe him something for saving me.  I definitely needed someone to kick me into gear so I could keep pursuing my dream, and to remind me what I’m fighting for.  One listen to his song “Rock N’ Roll Heart” and I knew that we had an understanding of one another.  Finally my dear Stylebust readers – someone I can share with you guys that is a complete life changer!  He stole the show.

This isn’t the last you’ll hear about Matt Hires from me.  Check out his latest Live Sessions EP.  He’s also going to be on the West Coast touring with Marc Broussard in a couple weeks (maybe I’ll see you there)!  There’s also been a lot of buzz recently surrounding his cover of MGMT’s “Kids.”  Check out the video of him performing it below: