Photos by Steven Cohen for MPR
Some might think my musical cachet peaked early in life.
At 14, Belle and Sebastian were my favorite band. My friends disliked them, but that just made me love them more. Images of Spoon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and that random British band I’d like to think you’ve never heard of were carefully cut from the pages of Spin, NME, and that random French rock magazine I’m sure you’ve never heard of. I gushed to John Roderick about his glasses after the Long Winters played a show at the Quest’s Ascot Room. Keane started getting airtime, and I said “Hmm, no thanks. Did you know that they’re the most popular band in England?” The more obscure, the better.
Then, something strange happened. Just as Mark Wheat was getting poppier in his transition from Radio K to The Current, I realized I was truly madly deeply in love with pop music. Preferably boy bands, those of the impeccable harmonies and uplifting vibes. It was Hanson that first charted my voyage on this musical ride of no return. (From their 2010 release Shout It Out, they clearly had me in mind when they sang, “Don’t make your mind up just yet/ There’s still so much for you to see.” Okay, Hanson, promise.)
They check all the boxes a now-former music snob might have. An early appearance at SXSW? Sure thing (1994). An independent record label? Yep (their own 3CG Records). Bono-level humanitarianism, but better looking in sunglasses? I would argue yes. A mysterious family tradition where most Hansons go by their middle names, plus they have about a hundred kids between the three of them? All that too!
Remembered by the masses for the 1997 earworm “MMMBop,” Hanson took their late-90s success and learned from it, and have crafted exemplary pop music ever since. Their songs offer hooks as catchy as anything the Shins can offer, and with vocal styles ranging from anthemic rock to blues to soulful pop and doo-wop, they can powerfully harmonize their way through a wide array of music. Now on a Middle of Everywhere 25th Anniversary Tour, Hanson stopped in Minneapolis last night for a very sold-out concert at First Avenue.
The show was a celebration of hits. The loudest cheers were for well-known tracks off their first two albums, with “If Only” and the Isaac-led “A Minute Without You” drawing near equivalent cheers, and “Where’s the Love,” “Look at You,” “This Time Around,” and “Weird” not far behind. “Strong Enough to Break,” a powerful ballad from their first indie release (2004’s Underneath), was “dedicated to fans who have had to take s*** for being a Hanson fan…and also to the guys in the audience.”
I took a minute during “MMMBop” to survey the dudes in attendance near me. Of the 15 I counted, 11 were having a good time, one seemed overjoyed, and three were unmoved and solemn. A few tunes later, during the riff-driven “Fired Up” (featuring Taylor plaintively asking the audience to “come with us if you want to live”), two of the three previously unmoved dudes were still unmoved, while the third was missing. These few mopes (one of whom was leaning weary and despondent on a railing at the end of the show while all the people surrounding him sang with exuberance) were alone in an otherwise ecstatic crowd.
One of the cheesier moments came before the final song in the main set, “In the City,” when Taylor asked the crowd “Do you feel alive tonight right now? You’re in Minneapolis!” For the most part, though, the energy was infectious, and the audience was into it.
The band dabbled in a few covers, including a funky medley of songs from the Spencer Davis Group and the Doobie Brothers, as well as their encore featuring an a cappella “Rockin’ Robin” and a rollicking “Johnny B. Goode” that faithfully honored Chuck Berry’s original. The music lasted a little over two hours, and although they took their time taking the stage, this seemed acceptable for three guys who have sold 16 million albums. Also, they were busy Gramming their Glam Doll doughnuts, which is always acceptable.
For Fansons, last night’s rote-yet-chummy show was a nonstop parade of hits, and was a great time. Anyone else in attendance was likely underwhelmed, as many of the songs unspooled without pause, in similar cadence and with similar rhythm. “And I Waited,” the least glossy song of the evening, suffered only from a lack of sound balance, with Zac’s vocals and Isaac’s guitar solo both too quiet. By the time the band played “Get The Girl Back,” the catchy hit off their most recent release, Anthem, Taylor’s voice seemed to be fading — not surprising given his on-stage enthusiasm and the the grinding schedule of concert dates they’re churning out in support of this tour.
I’ve thought long and hard about my unabashed love for pop music, and have realized that I enjoy all those indie bands most when they’re at their poppy best. Pop songs fill me with joy, that’s all there is to it. Given the recent tumult around the world, two hours of pure (if superficial) bliss is just what the doctor ordered. For 25 years, Hanson have delivered — and continue to do so, in style. All the listener has to do is show up, and be willing to have a good time.
- Overhead before the show: conversations about makeup, cake, boyfriend problems, dentist appointments, buying boxed wine, financing payments for an iPhone X, “But you’re in your 30s now!”
- The band arranged themselves on stage by thigh size: Isaac > Zac > Taylor
- The fully bearded beanie-clad First Ave employee positioned on the stairs who fell under a warm glow when the house lights were turned up, and who looked vaguely uncomfortable
- “Beer + Music = Awesome” – Taylor (uttering a concept already known by everyone everywhere)
- “Man, I had one wild night at Hanson!” – Isaac
Emma Schultz is a Minnesota native happy to be back in the Midwest after a too-long stint in rural northern Maine, where there was very little live music. From NKOTB to Bedřich Smetana, she is a fan of captivating melodies.