Orange County Hanson fans came out of hiding Thursday night for a two-hour performance that spanned the group’s career at House of Blues Anaheim.
True, the Oklahoma sibling trio isn’t the sort of band people go around advertising their love for. But if the only thing you remember about them is their ubiquitous 1997 single “MMMBop,” you owe it to yourself to take a second look.
With five albums and more than a decade of touring to their credit, the Hanson brothers now command the stage like the veterans they are. And although their boyish good looks remain, Taylor (27, above), Isaac (29) and Zac (24) are all married with children; the boys have grown into men, yet their music retains the easy optimism and youthful spirit that helped make “MMMBop” such a big hit. It seems that only the screaming fan girls haven’t changed over the years.
Power pop melodies with plenty of harmony remain the band’s chief strength. The guys’ voices blend together effortlessly, like they’ve been singing together their entire lives — which, of course, they have. Hanson songs are still characterized by big choruses, and tracks from the band’s latest release, Shout It Out, are no exception. The crowd was only too eager to join in, chanting the album’s title as a refrain for the opening cut, “Waiting for This.”
Indeed, mostly female and generally young, many fans in the nearly-full House of Blues sang along to every word Thursday night as the band pulled from both old and new material. “Crazy Beautiful,” from 2004, is a charming love song that would be right at home on the soundtrack to a romantic comedy, while “Get Up and Go” showed the band’s more rocking side. On first listen, the boys may seem like pure pop purveyors, but a closer look reveals Southern rock influences with a little bit of soul and R&B thrown in for good measure. Despite the group’s continued youthful energy, its influences mostly date to before these Hansons were born.
Taylor channels no one so much as Billy Joel when he’s in top form on the piano, singing and playing with genuine passion, especially on the ballad “Me, Myself and I.” The band also covered snippets of several classics, including the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Marvin Gaye’s immortal slow jam “Let’s Get It On.” Don’t worry, moms and dads: Hanson is still more than family-friendly. That song’s not-so-subtle yet mainstream-approved nods to intimacy were as raunchy as this show got.
The strongest remake of the night, however, was of the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling,” a song that rocks as much as soars along a great pop hook. Hanson pumped up its rock ’n’ roll heart, showing that underneath the trio’s radio-friendly melodies are some genuine musical chops. Frankly, Hanson should show off like that more often: “Carry You There,” one of the highlights of this set, was also one of few times during the show when the band really let loose.
Watching Hanson now, it’s easy to see how it has influenced one of today’s biggest draws for preteen girls, Jonas Brothers. Note the skinny tie and vest that Isaac wore (right) or the wholesomeness of the music itself: the JoBros are deeply indebted to these forebear brothers for paving the road a decade earlier, both in substance and style.
But Hanson refuses to live in the past. Thursday’s show was heavy on new tracks, including “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’,” a dance-your-blues-away answer to rejected love, anchored by Zac’s cowbell. Radio programmers who fell in love with “MMMBop” should give that track a listen; it’s at least as good.
Of course, most bands that last have songs they just have to play every night, and “MMMBop” is that for Hanson. Yet, while the song is as fun and catchy as ever, it was also clear that this crowd didn’t come just to hear the Big Hit. Full audience participation throughout the performance, from handclaps to singalongs, revealed this group has a bigger following than its admirers let on.
Hanson fans, it’s time to come clean and — dare I say — Shout It Out: there’s absolutely no shame in liking what is arguably one of the strongest pop-rock bands of the past decade.
Hanson performs again, with A Rocket to the Moon and Sparrow, tonight at House of Blues Sunset Strip (8490 Sunset Blvd., in West Hollywood) and Saturday at House of Blues San Diego (1055 5th Ave.). Tickets are $45.60 for Sunset, $42-$55.30 for S.D.
Photo by Kelly A. Swift, for The Orange County Register.