REVIEW: Hanson shows growth, diversity since ‘MMMBop’ at Sands Bethlehem Event Center

By | September 5, 2013

The Morning Call

It gets frustrating to make the same point in every review of a concert by the musical group Hanson, but it’s worth repeating.

Anyone who would have caught the three brothers at Sands Bethlehem Event Center on Monday without ever knowing about its monster pop hit “MMMBop” when all were adolescents would have rightly been impressed by accomplished musicians playing songs in a variety of styles better than most anything on the radio and working hard at it.

That’s because in the 17 years since that song came out, the Hanson brothers have continued to develop their musical skills and put out strong and varying albums.

That’s what Hanson’s hour-and-45-minute set was like, offering up pop, R&B and even rock – all of it good — in a 24-song set that alternated between hits and songs from as early as the debut disc “Middle of Nowhere” to “Anthem,” released in June.

The new disc accounted for eight of the night’s songs, starting with the opening “I’ve Got Soul,” and hammered home the point: All were very good, and very well played.

“You Can’t Stop Us Now,” the hardest-rocking of them all, had a sexy drum-and-bass line (Hanson played with an extra bassist and multi-instrumentalist). “Juliet,” with youngest Hanson Zac, now 17 [sic], on piano and singing, was nice pop-soul.

A trio of new songs were among the night’s best. “Scream and Be Free,” with its hooky music and chant-y lyrics, has every reason to be a hit, and Zac sang it in a very well-developed voice. “Fired Up” was even better – a big guitar-and-drum song with a great, nasty hook.

And the new single, “Get the Girl Back,” had a groove so funky and nasty that middle brother Taylor Hanson, now 30, seemed to be hardly able to contain himself, moving around stage as he sang.

The older songs not only have held up well, but in many cases gained maturity in their presentation. “Where’s The Love,” the band’s second hit after “MMMBop,” found eldest brother Isaac, 32, playing a nice guitar solo – among the night’s many that showed his prowess on the ax. “This Time Around,” had a distorted, extremely rock solo that moved into nicely soulful string bending.

And “A Minute Without You,” also from the debut album, sounded as if it had aged into heavier ’60s pop.

A mid-concert acoustic set also offered some of the night’s best. It started with the 2004 hit “Penny & Me,” its summer-y acoustic vibe floating out, then “With You in Your Dreams,” warm and heartfelt – especially the harmonies – and another example of that first disc’s songs getting better with age.

Then the brothers took solo turns: Isaac on “For Your Love,” another new standout; Zac on the new “Call Out My Name,” its bare instrumentation highlighting the Adam Levine quality of his voice; and Taylor riffing on piano to a playful later-career “Kiss Me When You Come Home.”

The main set drew to a close with a run of very good newer material. “Waiting For This” was funky – thanks to Isaac’s guitar – as was Thinking ‘Bout Something” – and the jumping R&B “Give a Little.”

And by the encore of the new “Tonight” and the very guitar-driven “In the City,” Taylor Hanson’s hair was dripping seat. [sic]

And all that was without “MMMBop.”

But, of course, earlier in the set, Hanson played that song . (How could they not?) It sounded older, more mature, and less poppy, but still crazy good. The crowd – surprisingly small at perhaps 500 – also was older, but the song still obviously generated the feelings it did 17 years ago. Women were dancing, and screaming, like teens.

Opening act Paul McDonald, who finished eighth on the 10th season of “American Idol” in 2011, played a 40-minute, seven-song set that showed he hasn’t developed much since his time on the show. His over-hyper stage demeanor was distracting, and he was best on “Dreaming Alone” and “Heartbreak,” country/Americana songs that best fit his talents.

John.moser@mcall.com

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