Hanson brings down house

Atlanta stop on fall tour a success

Sasha Larson

Hanson, the pop-rock masterminds behind ‘97’s infectious “MMMBop” (among other accolades) hit Atlanta’s Center Stage for a two-night concert Oct. 19 and 20.

The three brothers – Isaac (or Ike), 34, Taylor, 32 and Zac, 30, formed in 1992, the product of a close-knit homeschooling Tulsa family and a habit of harmonizing “amen” at the dinner table. Twenty-three years later and with six studio albums under their belt, the band embarked on a ten-city tour on Oct. 7.

The Roots and Rock ‘n’ Roll tour, named for a lyric from the country-infused “Been There Before,” “[changes] it up a lot,” Ike said in a press release. “We’re doing everything we can to create special moments from night to night.”

For Hanson, this meant performing two nights in a row in each city, working with a setlist of covers (the roots) for the first show and their own material (rock ‘n’ roll) for the second. Sandwiched between the gigs were afterparties deejayed by Taylor and sponsored by the brothers’ own craft beer brand, MMMHops. Oh yeah, and those barefoot walks around the venue.

As part of their nonprofit organization, the Take the Walk campaign, Hanson invites fans to trek a mile with them – shoes optional. Take the Walk donates money to fight poverty and AIDS in African children.

“What we wanted to try to do was, in a very humble way…talk to the people around us about how we can individually look at our roles,” Taylor said to the National Post. “Walking one mile barefoot is both a symbol and also a very powerful, galvanizing movement for everyone involved.”

Between the lager and the largesse, it’s a wonder they still put emphasis on the music. Or rather, it’d be a wonder for any band but Hanson – seasoned experts in balancing entrepreneurship with tunes. The brothers three (plus the grooving Andrew Perusi on bass and fiery Dimitrius Collins backing keyboards and guitar) mercilessly rocked the house and then, just when it came up for breath, rocked some more.

NIGHT ONE

Hanson’s proven themselves adept at a wide range of covers before. Their live albums span everything from an eerie rendition of Radiohead’s “Optimistic” to a smooth medley of “Gimme Some Lovin’” meshed with “Shake a Tail Feather.” This time they came out swinging with “Twist and Shout,” and churned through other classics with grace and speed. Peppered throughout the nigHanson1ht were deeper cuts from Hanson themselves, like the near-sickeningly catchy “Voice in the Chorus” or the ballad “Georgia,” which sounds even more beautiful if heard as an ode to our state.

Each Hanson got his share of the limelight.

Taylor yanked his raspy, haunting voice through everything from Sam and Dave’s “Hold On I’m Coming” to Three Dog Night’s “Never Been to Spain,” flaunting his combination restraint and release. Ike got to shine on Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right” and Ben E. King’s mellow-tempoed “Stand by Me.” Zac showcased powerhouse vocals on Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” and magnetizing showmanship on the closer, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by the Darkness.

Only Hanson could take a hair metal revival song and make it sound like a modern party anthem. Their ability to tastefully revamp timeless hits is an unparalleled skill, matched only by their ability to harmonize.

In May of 1998, a New York Times piece ran on Hanson, detailing their musical background and rise to fame. Highly complimentary, it described them as “a band with enough knowledge and respect for rock history to sing the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” in private but never in public for fear that they couldn’t do justice to a pop song so perfect.”

Seventeen years later, the same band proved they have enough knowledge, respect and skill to master that song, treating it graciously with a moving three-part harmony and gentle piano that painted the crowd in silence. This cover was the star of the night, an homage to Brian Wilson too sacred to translate through video.

Compare this, the picture of “pretty” music, to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Razorblade” – a hard and fast pumping banger served up hot, heavy and rolling thirteen songs later. Hanson is extraordinary-able. Chiefly, they proved the first night that they can do it all, and set the bar high for a second showing.

NIGHT TWO

Fans began swarming the pit earlier Tuesday night than they did Monday, clad in Hanson shirts available at the merch table for shockingly reasonable prices. Just another reason to love (or at least respect) the band – no paying $45 for a cheapo screenprint.

“Already Home,” a track from 2013’s “Anthem,” set the stage for the night, proving Hanson can get the crowd rocking while still saving highest-intensity
tracks for later. The second night’s setlist evenly matched their 90s favorites (“Look at You,” “A Minute Without You”) with newer picks (the gospel-infused “Great Divide,” feel-good singalong “Crazy Beautiful” and “Get the Girl Back,” which could appear on a musical soundtrack).

Highlights came when band members shared anecdotes with an eager audience – details from touring with Ed Sheeran, funny quotes from their children – and when Isaac and Taylor strutted solo performance skills.Hanson2

Other band members departed for Taylor to play “A Song For You,” a touching ballad that proved his extensive piano experience. Isaac tossed out goofy jokes before an acoustic rendition of “Hand in Hand” that climaxed in a return
of the full band. The result? An electrifying solo, courtesy of Collins, topped with generous helpings of Ike’s signature growl.

The ultimate standout, however, was the strong yet delicate “Broken Angel.” Using only a piano and signature harmonies, Hanson transformed an already poignant number into a downright chillingly beautiful piece. The crowd made noise only when the venue experienced a brief “lighting fail” (Taylor) that accidentally washed the pit in spotlight.

A concert spanning two nights deserves a stunning finale, and Hanson delivered. After only a few chants of “Han-SON! Han-SON!” the brothers re-emerged for an encore even greater than the sum of the concert’s parts. Beginning with the rip-roaring “Fired Up,” Hanson drew the audience to their feet.

The track seamlessly transitioned into the bridge of “In the City,” possibly Hanson’s hardest rocking song. Taylor engaged the audience in a little call and response as “In the City” became “Rollercoaster Love.” Then, before you could say “you need coolin’, baby I’m not foolin’,” Hanson switched gears and dived into Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” After a face-melting solo courtesy of Isaac, the band swung back into “Rollercoaster Love” for a breathtaking finale.

While the RNR tour drew to a close in San Francisco Nov. 4, the brothers aren’t quite done yet. They play three shows at Epcot Center’s “Eat to the Beat” series on the 10th, 11th and 12th.

The guys admitted in their website blog that the tour was “way too short, but also very sweet.”

“To get to place our songs next to some of the greatest records ever was both terrifying and extremely gratifying,” they said

With top of the line performance skills and songs encompassing a range of genres, Hanson proved they’re an act to watch – preferably, live, on a tour as groundbreaking and game-changing as RNR. For those who lost touch with the band since the 90s, the question isn’t “where are they now?” It’s, “where aren’t they now?”

 

Photos by Sasha Larson