It’s a Saturday night, and the NorVa pulses with a 20 year old nostalgia: a shimmering incantation of adolescent girls in baby doll t’s, blue jeans and roll-on body glitter, a palpable sense of innocent longing, of late night summer diary scrawls with that one song stuck on repeat.
Then, in what feels like a blink, the girls in glitter are all grown up, and the boys from the boombox nights of their youth are DADS now. But somehow after all the years, the monotonous day jobs, and the face smack of real life beyond the teen magazine quiz results, here they are again before us! Still making great music, still singing the songs we came of age to and writing new songs that feel enough like the old ones that they trick us into feeling forever 14.
To be frank, reviewing Hanson’s concert last Saturday night came with quite a bit of bias. These boys were the wallpaper of my high school bedroom and the beacons that steered me toward a life of songwriting. I loved them for being the blond black sheep of boy-bands who skipped the choreographed dance routines and wrote the songs themselves. They were the squeaky clean Tulsa, Oklahoma fellas you knew your Mom would offer iced tea to and yet, they were also handsome, sweaty rock stars in pleather pants. So, indeed, I was (and still am) a Hanson fan — so much so that it says so on my car.
“MMMBOP” was Hanson’s first hit single from their 1997 debut album, Middle of Nowhere. 2017 marks 20 year’s since “MMMBOP” hit the airwaves, and 25 years that brothers Isaac, Taylor, and Zac have been playing music together as a band. To celebrate those two significant anniversaries, they decided to release a Best Of album and go on an international tour, both titled Middle of Everywhere, as a throwback to their 1997 debut. I’ll freely admit that while I’ve stayed a fan, I haven’t always kept up to date with the band’s newer releases. But nostalgia does something magical to our brains and our hearts. The moment I heard about the tour, I was instantly jolted into wanting to listen to the old stuff and finally check out the new stuff. Additionally, I was curious to see how this show would measure up to the last time I saw Hanson at the NorVa in 2011. That was a fun but sort of disappointing night due to the medium sized crowd of only mildly enthusiastic mid-late 20s women and their very stoic significant others. But in 2017, its a different world.
I attended the sold out concert with my Mom and my best friend Lindsay (who I met in high school and shared a love of Hanson and musicals with). As we walked through the NorVa’s entrance just before the start of the show, the size of the crowd was fairly alarming. I had never seen the NorVa so packed. The merch line was already snaked down the length of the left hand wall, and the floor was packed stretching from the front of the stage to the sound booth. Further into the crowd, we bumped into more friends, all giddy and revved up for the mmm’s and the bops.
The first surprise of the night came in the form of NO OPENER. A full night of Hanson and Hanson alone. We grabbed drinks from the bar and settled on some prime standing real estate toward the back of the crowd, midway between the bar and the stairs to the mezzanine. In only a few minutes, the lights went down and the screaming commenced. Holy Moly, Was this a room of grown ass women or 13 year old girls? Apparently the nostalgia magic had already begun to dance through us.
As the stage filled with light, I witnessed a very small fiasco, as a couple of sound guys rushed in to help the bass player with a cable of some sort. It was only due to my vantage point that I caught this, but it was adorable watching the wide mouthed smile of the bassist as his situation was swiftly resolved. But the first song had already begun without him — oh well!
Hanson opened with a trio of three songs without taking a single pause –the third of which cemented the reality of where we were and who we were there with. The giant 30 something crowd belted out every single word to “Where’s the Love.”
Lindsay and I broke into harmony, my Mom pumped her fist in the air to the chorus, and all was right with the world.
Weaving back and forth between old classics and newer songs, Hanson brought the funky pop rocking fire. Each song pumped full of energy and fun, and if there was any question as to whether Hanson might have lost their touch, they deemed themselves more worthy with every decibel burst of applause.
The show had a great sense of variety even beyond song choice, due to the guys jumping around to different instruments. Taylor jumped on drums for a song, and Zach played drums on most songs but also rocked rhythm guitar and keys! For one song, all three brothers came to the front of the stage and sweetly sang their ballad “Save Me.”
I was struck by the lyrics in “This Time Around”: “I’m feeling older and I’m wondering why”– which had a very different meaning for me when it was on the radio in 2000. “Get the Girl Back” slayed with a punchy pop beat that made it hard not to do awkward space-constricted dance moves. When the guys finally played “Mmmbop” toward the end of the show, my Mom began shouting “WORLD PEACE!” amidst the giant singalong of the chorus. I laughed at the moment but after the show she explained that, for her, the energy of that moment was what she imagines world peace would feel like. Solid.
For myself and many of the folks I spoke with, our favorite moment ended up being the most acoustic and old school rendition of the night, a front of the stage totally acoustic performance of “Madeline” complete with tambourine and impeccable three part harmony! In reflection, I can’t think of one single pitchy moment of the entire show — which says a lot about how tight and practiced these guys are at singing together.
By the end of the night, Hanson had played 25 songs, plus a two song encore and spent nearly two and a half hours jumping around, shouting to the rafters and throwing their hands in the air with us. It was more than a concert; it was a reminder that all beautiful things don’t have to burn out or quietly fade to nothingness. Some great things actually stay great.