Review: Hanson at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg

By | November 16, 2010

Tampa Bay Times Soundcheck

If you had told me back in 1997 that in the year 2010, I would pay $25 of my hard-earned American dollars to see Hanson live in concert, my 17-year-old self would have rolled up his flannel sleeves, cranked up the Soundgarden and snarked out some disdainful insult from Clerks. (My 17-year-old self, in this scenario, wishes it was still 1994.)

But as I live and breathe, I tell you this: Since 1997, Hanson has had a more enviable career than many of the bands I dug that year. Their output since MMMBop rivals, if not tops, that of Oasis, Live, Bush, Everclear and any number of forgettable one-hit wonders. Yes, I’m talking about you, Spacehog.

Hanson’s biggest hit will always be MMMBop — that tends to happen when your debut single hits No. 1 in 27 countries — but since then, they have adapted to their changing voices and talents with each album, to the point that their biggest hit now sounds out of place in their catalog. In concert, you know it’s coming, but you encounter so many other fun songs along the way that you almost wish they wouldn’t play it.

On Friday at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg, this is the Hanson we saw: A soulful, talented band with a gift for writing simple pop songs, who could stride into any city in America and instantly be the best bar band there.

This was evident from the first song, the irrepressible new track Waiting For This. All of Hanson’s music is extraordinarily happy, and all of their harmonies are spot-on, and would be the envy of countless vocal bands. But Waiting For This is about as happy as a pop song can get in 2010. It’s like Huey Lewis’ Stuck With You, but with more call-and-response. The audience loved it. Or maybe they just loved seeing Taylor, Isaac and Zac onstage together. Either way, the crowd — not sold out, but pretty huge, and largely women — knew most of the words.

The band has progressed a lot in the past decade, when This Time Around revealed a bluesier, more soulful, almost gospel-tinged side the band was dying to let out. That, too, was a powerful live song, as was the power-poppy Runaway Run and Lost Without Each Other. They threw in a Beatles cover, Oh! Darling, and peppered the second half of their set with soulful numbers like Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’ and Hey.

Yes, all of these songs came out — do I even need to say it? — after 1997. Some of them came out THIS YEAR, on Hanson’s new album Shout It Out. Seventeen-year-old me might not want to hear it, but Hanson is not a punchline. Even if you stripped them of MMMBop, you can tell they’d have a real career today.

Also: Taylor’s hair is astonishing. I know how this sounds. I do not care. It is probably the most perfect rock-star hair I’ve ever seen on a living human being. It is like the hair of Jon Bon Jovi, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Pattinson all rolled into one perfect coif. Taylor knows it, too; every time he swung his head up from the mic, his mane floated around his face like windswept Serengeti grass. Go ahead, laugh at me. You weren’t there. You didn’t see it. I SAW IT. And I plan to requisition any and all paperwork necessary to nominate it as the eighth wonder of the natural world.

Don’t believe me? Here:

OOM. You just got HAIR’D.

Finally, there is MMMBop, the song that started it all. How could Hanson infuse that song, that outlandishly overplayed pop smash, with new life?

Simple: Strip it down. During a three-song acoustic set, after the lovely Penny & Me and the Zac-led Go, the three brothers, using nothing but a guitar, shaker and tambourine, performed MMMBop as the happiest, most engaging campfire sing-along ever. It was a simple change, but a welcome one, as the song shed its dated goofiness in favor of simple, shiny glee. Not everything ages well in 13 years (again: Spacehog), but this did.

Thirteen years from now, MMMBop will still sound as good as it sounded Friday. Taylor Hanson will be 40, and his hair will probably be the basis of some new religion. And a new group 17-year-old kids will look at Hanson’s three-decade career, and their entire body of work, and wonder how anyone could ever think of them as just a one-hit wonder.

— Jay Cridlin, tbt*