Review: Hanson gives fun, crowd-pleasing performance at packed Empire Live

By | July 31, 2022

Times Union

Isaac Hanson, Taylor Hanson and Zac Hanson (back) of Hanson perform at the SiriusXM Studios on May 20 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

When I was in middle school, Hanson was such a big deal. Brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson were intensely popular tween idols because of their hit single “MMMBop” and quadruple platinum-selling CD “Middle of Nowhere.”  

When high school rolled around, the Hanson craze had died down, replaced with a fervor for Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync. But Hanson rolled with the changes, spending its post-pubescence recording on their own label and pursuing a sound indebted to ‘80s-era Steve Winwood and Elton John. 

On Thursday night, Hanson made a stop at a nearly sold out Empire Live. In front of an enthusiastic audience, los hermanos delivered an energetic two-hour set that showcased their musicianship and vocal abilities and encompassed material from throughout their 26-year career.

While the audience was lively and engaged throughout, the singles and album cuts from “Middle of Nowhere” and its immediate follow-up compilation sets went over best. Hanson busted out “Where’s the Love” as its second song of the night and fans gleefully sang along and spun their index fingers in the air for the chorus’ “’round and ‘round” refrain. Main set closer “Man From Milwaukee,” coming on the heels of “MMMBop,” earned the biggest response of the night and had folks absolutely losing it.

From a performance standpoint, Hanson played these tracks with an earnest joy and visible enthusiasm. They also wisely adjusted to the fact that Taylor has a considerably deeper voice now at 39 than he did at 14 and lowered the tuning on them accordingly so he could still sing them and do so competently.

“Red, Green, Blue,” the latest Hanson LP, consists of three, five-track sections where each brother tackles lead vocal duties and takes the role of bandleader. This approach carried over to the live show and its presentation of new material. Taylor took the reins for the rootsy-ish ballad “Child at Heart” and offered a solo acoustic rendition of “Save Me.” Isaac sang “Write You a Song” and led the band through the blues-rocker “Cold as Ice.” Zac stepped out from his drum kit to play keyboard and sing a track, and also sang lead on the arena rock-lite “Don’t Let Me Down,” which was highlighted by some phenomenal lead guitar work from touring guitarist/keyboard player Dimitrius Collins.

While nearly half the audience left after “MMMBop” and “Man from Milwaukee,” Hanson offered up a two-song encore. Opener John Calvin Abney blew some mouth harp on the first track and the band ended with the uptempo “Lost Without Each Other.” The remaining fans went nuts for it, ending the night on a energetic note.

Abney played a sturdy half-hour set of folky singer-songwriter fare. The audience was fairly polite and Abney noted repeatedly that he understood folks weren’t there to see him. Still, his set was solid, and in a smaller venue like Caffe Lena with concertgoers more inclined to dig on acoustic singer-songwriters, it probably would have killed.

with John Calvin Abney
When: 8:00 p.m. Thursday
Where: Empire Live, 93 N Pearl St., Albany
Length: Hanson, 2 hours 6 minutes; John Calvin Abney, 30 minutes
Highlights: Hanson’s “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Man from Milwaukee” and “Lost Without Each Other
The crowd: Not quite up to the venue’s 1,000-person capacity, but close, mostly female and very excited to be there. 

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