The word Hanson comes with certain connotations. Generally, it’s a band name that’s met with a smirk – like: “Oh, yeah. I remember the 90s,” – and is followed by a wormhole of nostalgic boy band YouTube clips. But truthfully, categorizing the trio of Oklahoma brothers into the same category as their contemporaries is woefully unfair. True, their appearance at the sold out Danforth Music Hall was met by the screaming, rabid cheers of excitable fan girls: but don’t let the poppy beginnings of the band fool you. These are three men (really, men: guitar Isaac is 32; keyboardist Taylor is 30; and drummer Zac is 28) with a serious ear for music and an eye for business.
They cater to their crowd of diehard fans – many of whom fork over 40 bucks a year to be members of the official Hanson fan club – and they’ve been on their own independent 3CG Records label since 2003. It’s been a tireless struggle, but music’s been something they’ve kept at and it’s a career they’ve seemingly taken full control of.
Saturday night saw the band swing by Toronto in support of their newest album, 2013’s Anthem. This was an expanded lineup compared to their last appearance in the city in 2012. This time the brothers brought with them additional guitarist/keyboardist Dimitrius Collins and bassist Andrew Perusi to round out their studio sound in a live setting.
With the night’s focus on the new album and the band playing beneath a huge Anthem backdrop, they were still very much conscious of their crowd. To introduce 2000 single “This Time Around”, Taylor Hanson told the crowd: “So this album is called Anthem. It’s album number six. Which means we have a lot of ground to cover.” (Note: If we’re being technical, it’s actually studio album nine – but he did say six.) “This Time Around” played extremely well, the instruments dropping out for the first chorus and leaving the Hanson brothers a cappella. And, as can be expected it, was the old, familiar material that drew the biggest crowd reaction. Third song “Where’s the Love” – an infectious pop tune that will wedge itself in your head for days – would prove to be the night’s first big sing along.
There were many other moments of audience participation, of course. The people that had lined up outside since two in the morning (and even those that had shown up at a more reasonable hour) chimed in on both old favourites and new material. And it’s also a lot of material.
“We’re celebrating 21 years as a band,” Taylor explained during the set’s acoustic portion of “On and On” and “With You In Your Dreams”. On the latter, it was Taylor’s voice that was the clear highlight – the song only slightly marred by some off harmonies in its chorus.
They again went a cappella for “Too Much Heaven”, asking the crowd to be as quiet as possible for it work. While “shhhs” went through the crowd and smartphones were held aloft to capture the moment, there was still some heckling and general chitchat. The band took it in good humour though, Zac ending the song with a simple: “Thank you everyone… except that one girl.”
For the most part, when the three brothers sang together, it appeared effortless and comfortable. There’s certainly good reason for that: they’ve been doing it for so long it looks easy. But it’s also a big, polished sound that seems to translate just as well individually.
Following the acoustic portion, Hanson took things down a notch even further by giving each of its members a chance to do a solo song. Eldest brother Isaac was up first, dedicating his lead vocal to the hopelessly romantic with Anthem’s “For Your Love”. Although an emotional ballad, it was here that the rock part of the night really came out.
Zac followed with “Need You Now” and, while his voice isn’t nearly as booming as either of his brothers, he commands an audience’s attention with his earnest approachability. He was followed on stage by lead vocalist Taylor, who hopped on the piano for 2000’s “Save Me” (or in Taylor’s words: “One more sappy love song for you guys,”) and incited another sing along in his effort.
They picked things back up by returning to the new album and the bouncy “Juliet”. The 1997 song “A Minute Without You” – off of the band’s breakout Middle of Nowhere – proved to be another favourite with the crowd.
But if there’s one noticeable problem with Hanson’s show, it’s that it all seems so very scripted. No, not in the sense that it seems monotonous or tiring to them – just in the sense that every line of banter comes off slightly cold like they’ve said it before and they’ll say it again. Take, for instance, Taylor’s introduction of: “You Can’t Stop Us Now”, another from Anthem. It consisted of him saying: “You guys look unstoppable tonight! Do you feel unstoppable?” While I’m all for the rah-rah enthusiasm, it’s very much on the wrong side of cheesy. The song itself is an interesting addition to the catalogue, sounding very much like Queen’s “We Will Rock You” if it was mashed up with the Spice Girl’s “Who Do You Think You Are?”
Now I know what you’re asking: “But what about that big song of theirs? You know. That “MMMBop” number?” Don’t you worry, casual Hanson listeners. Yes – they did play it (albeit it’s a few octaves lower than in its original release) and it’s still just as infectious as it was back in the day. They’re good for performing it, given they’ve matured and grown far past the nonsensical nature of its chorus. They showed this growth but still engrained penchant for pop hooks by following it with their newest single, “Get the Girl Back”.
It’s this development and career arc that’s been so interesting to watch. Because as a band, Hanson’s certainly made a viable go of it in the music industry with a career any child pop star would envy. It also doesn’t hurt that they certainly seem happy to be making and performing music for their fans.
Isaac ended the show with the final word, telling the crowd: “We’ll make you a promise. If you’ll come back, we’ll come back.” Based on the reaction from the crowd, they should probably never leave. Because, as unbelievable as it may be, the two-hour Hanson concert was entertaining to watch: and not just for the nineties pop staples.
Thanks to Live Nation for media access.