At the sold-out Warfield on Friday night, Hanson — brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zachary — rocked out with a teen spirit several levels tarter than bubblegum.
Still, slouching toward adulthood can be tough: The Warfield holds only a fraction of the crowd that packed the Shoreline Amphitheatre to see the band two years ago, and “This Time Around,” the heavier, midtempo follow-up CD to 1997’s blithe, multiplatinum “Middle of Nowhere,” has enjoyed only middling success. Three years might be a reasonable amount of time between albums by adult artists, but it’s an eternity in the pop world.
In the end, though, the growing pains pay off. The brothers’ Friday performance showed they’ve matured onstage as well as in the studio. They still trot out the canned platitudes between songs (“This audience rocks!”), but they play with the spontaneity of musicians who know both their music and their instruments. They should. They write their own songs, no small feat in a landscape littered with marginally talented, unpack-and-assemble drones.
Supported by three decent backup musicians, Hanson rolled out a two-hour set that included enough early material (“Where’s the Love,” “Speechless”) to keep hardcore fans happy while focusing the show on works from the second album. Hard-rocking songs such as “Runaway Run” and “Can’t Stop” let guitarist Isaac, 19, show his developing chops with spates of bluesy lead-guitar noodling. Zachary, a hefty 14, ably pummeled his drums while adding vocals to “You Never Know” and other rhythm-driven numbers.
Eyes of all ages were riveted to 17-year-old Taylor, whose uncanny beauty matched a stage presence that all but oozed stardom. Whether pounding on the keyboards for the power ballad “I Don’t Know” or sashaying across the stage to deliver “Love Song,” he was a template of teen charisma.
Acoustic songs such as “Wish That I Was There” found the brothers harmonizing at the front of the stage, giving kids a thrill and trumping the efforts of contemporary pop crooners. And how many boy bands could pull off a sweet — if vapid — rendition of Janis Joplin’s signature “Piece of My Heart”?
Hanson still prompts waves of adulation from its fans, who expressed their love with delirious screams and homemade signs reading “Moon Me, Zac” and “Hanson Rocks My World.” The Hansons returned the affection by making sure their young acolytes were safe and repeatedly paused the show so that those on the crowded floor could take a step back and breathe. Remarkably, the brothers didn’t leave their trademark single, “MMMBop,” for last. The song that made the world and its mother bop in 1997 was neatly spliced into midset and the encore reserved for peppy covers of the classic “Summertime Blues” and Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me.”
Longevity, thy name might well turn out to be Hanson. If the Warfield show was anything to go by, this trio could well make the leap from teeny-bop cubs to young rock lions. Very young rock lions, to be sure, but the manes are definitely sprouting. ..