Lords of Dogwood
REVIEW: HANSON AT THE VOGUE THEATRE
21 years ago, three brothers, aged six through twelve, thought they would try playing some music together. Fast forward to 2013, and Zac, Taylor and Isaac Hanson are still at it. It’s been over two decades since they first picked up their instruments and sixteen years after their monster hit “Mmmbop” and its corresponding album Middle of Nowhere took the pop world and music charts by storm.
Hanson saw massive success before they were even old enough to drive cars or buy booze, playing arenas across the entire globe for a couple years before the frenzy around them subsided. The band’s initial gimmick died long ago, probably even before drummer Zac turned double-digits and the entire group opted for their signature long blonde locks to get chopped off.
But where their fellow ‘90s hitmakers (here’s looking at you Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC and the list goes on) have fallen off the map almost entirely, this trio of brothers from Tulsa, Oklahoma have continued on with a career-spanning endurance that has seen continual releases and subsequent tours. They may not be racing to the top of the charts like their breakout release, but Hanson have maintained a loyal fan base after all these years—a legion of mostly females who still follow them on tour and show up for daily one-mile barefoot walks at tour stops that helps raise funds for overseas relief.
But a Hanson concert in 2013 is a far cry from the tween scream-a-thons that sprung up at their arena and stadium tours in the ‘90s. The audience shows a more diverse group of fans, new and old, with both those tweeting excitedly “my seventh Hanson tour!” and new blood of youngsters who wouldn’t have even been conceived when “Mmmbop” exploded.
Crowd aside, it’s basically the opposite of what you’d expect unless you’ve been watching the modest direction the band have taken in the past decade-and-a-half, with frequent self-released albums and sporting a more rock edge than expected.
Opener “Fired Up” (also the lead track from the group’s ninth studio album Anthem) was a sharp reality check to those in the house expecting the same type of bubble-gum mania Hanson are still most associated with.
The old hits from Middle of Nowhere are not too present throughout the set, but when they come out to play, the crowd goes bonkers. Early on, “Where’s The Love” has the audience break out into a full-on sing-along, showing the power of a good hit has true staying power. But what was more interesting was how these pop ditties nestled right at home within the group’s newer material, which spans through rock, soul and, at times, funk. “I’ve Got Soul” showed a very Michael Jackson-inspired groove. “Save Me” saw a stripped-down, front-of-stage performance where Zac leaves his drum kit to sit on a percussion block and participate in a chilling three-part harmony.
Another surprise to the set was how minimalistic and low-production the entire show was. A cheap looking banner on the back wall was the only extent of any bells and whistles at all. But Hanson doesn’t have to sidetrack with big tricks—all three members are genuinely talented, equally distributing the workload, constantly rotating instruments and singing duties. At times I was shocked at how cool I felt all three of the brothers were without even trying.
Early 2000s hit “This Time Around” is Taylor Hanson at his best, encouraging the crowd to sing and clap along, all the while delivering a non-stop energy filled with enough vocal runs to show why, deep-down, he’s still maintained that heart-throb appeal that got him onto all those teen magazine covers years back.
Mid set, the band leaves the stage while each member of the trio performs a solo acoustic number, beginning with Isaac’s soft, romantic “For Your Love”. He then introduces Zac, who pulls out the not-often-played “Fire On The Mountain”, which takes the set to near Bon Iver territory in all of its indie-folk glory. Zac then turns the stage over to Taylor, for the non-album track “Never Let Go”. Taylor begins his solo song by talking about being a dad: “You don’t know what love is like until you have kids”, wishing the youngest of his five children a happy first birthday and launching into the sentimental “Never Let Go”.
And then it’s back to full-band version (which also includes touring members Andrew Poluzzi on bass and Demetrius Collins on keys and guitar, rounding out the sound to a full, arena-ready capacity). On “Juliet”, Zac and Taylor switch places, with Zac proving he actually might be the most technically trained singer out of the trio. He showcases his well-received goofy side, playing an Elton John-like performance, complete with wacky grin throughout. “You Can’t Stop Us Now” has the boys trying on classic arena rock, in full aggressive and edgy mode.
And, of course, “Mmmbop”, which Taylor seems to get a little twinkle in his eye before introducing. “This one’s for those of you who came to see us all those years before.” It is strange to have a pop song give you chills, but for those who grew up watching these three raucous kids on MTV, it’s a real trip to see it live all these years later. And Taylor Hanson acknowledges just that very notion: “Tomorrow I want you to tell your friends, ‘me and Hanson had hell of a night last night’.”