Concert Review: Hanson

"If you ever had to take shit for being a Hanson fan, this is for you."


Some people will be surprised to find my name in this byline, but while I've been a passionate metal fan for a very long time, over my life I have listened to a wide variety of music, amongst which is the Oklahoma sibling trio Hanson. When I saw that they were coming to town, celebrating 25 years as a band, and 20 years since the release of Middle of Nowhere, the album that spawned the polarizing global hit “MMMBop”, I knew I had to review the show. After all, I was celebrating an anniversary of my own: it had been 20 years since I first saw them live, at an appearance at Musique Plus. I had gone alone, waiting in line outside surrounded by screaming, crying preteen girls. None of my friends had been interested in coming, so when I was among those picked to go inside, meet the band, and see the performance up close, I had no one to celebrate with. 

Now, 20 years later, I found myself waiting in line outside the Corona Theatre, alone again. The people around me, primarily clusters of women in their early 30s, were buzzing about the show being sold out. Capacity at Corona is 900+ people, and the venue was full. Choosing to forego an opener in favor of a full two hour set that would span their career, Hanson, along with Dimitrius Collins on keys and guitar, and Andrew Perusi on bass, took the stage to the familiar female screams that have followed them for over 20 years. With six albums of material to pull from, they opened with a couple of songs from their more recent albums, before digging back to the beginning with their second single from their first record, “Where’s the Love?”. While I was expecting to see a stronger audience response to their earliest music, the audience was just as enthused and familiar with songs from across their output.

It's notable that Hanson are in a mature phase of their career, with an established fan base that's growing along with them. On average, bands first strike it big in their mid to late 20s. This stage of a music career, with its seasoned confidence, deep catalogue of songs, and die hard fans, usually hits musicians in their 40s and 50s, not their early 30s. Seeing Hanson now is paradoxical, in a way. With their good looks, tight jeans and hip haircuts, they look like any other young, contemporary rock outfit, but there is an undeniable maturity to their on stage personas. Perhaps it's that, despite their average age of 34, the full dozen children they have between them have given them a certain dad-like mellowness. Or, more likely, it's that Hanson has always been a bit of a paradox. 

While their blond, California surfer boy aesthetic helped propel them up the charts in 1997, “MMMBop”, along with the other songs on Middle of Nowhere, references a musical vocabulary far richer than their ages and early marketing would have one believe. Skillfully blending elements of funk, blues and soul into bright, catchy pop songs is out of reach of most, and yet here were three young teens doing exactly that. Hanson have written, or co-written, all their songs since the very beginning, and have navigated an often perilous industry on their own independent label for over 15 years. They continue to sell out venues whenever they play, and have a dedicated online fan base whose paid subscriptions directly support the band. This second act of their career shows no sign of slowing down, and is a huge testament to their musicianship.

Live, their ease with their instruments is clear. While Isaac, wearing an outfit fitting of the Man in Black, Johnny Cash, held fast on guitars, Zac on drums and Taylor on keyboards would occasionally switch seats, each singing backups while drumming. Over the course of the set, Taylor played organ and congas as well, and Zac occasionally left his kit to join the brothers for more stripped down, acapella interpretations. I was surprised when, on “I Don’t Want To Go Home”, Zac took lead vocals and unleashed an incredibly powerful voice on a song that is poised for mainstream radio. The surprises kept coming all night, with a covers medley including Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man” and “Gimme Some Lovin’”, as well as a beautiful rendition of the late Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers”. 

One doesn’t need to be a Hanson fan to appreciate their sound, which has more in common with Motown and other famous bands of brothers like the Bee Gees and the Jackson 5, than with the boy bands they’ve previously been lumped in with. But for those who, in Taylor Hanson’s words, might have taken shit for it in the past, twenty five years on, being a fan is easier than ever. Oh, and yes, they played “MMMBop”, and it was great.

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