BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
Mention that you’re going to a Hanson concert and the inevitable response is, “You mean those ‘MMMBop’ kids?”
Well, yes, if this were still 1997 and the sibling trio of Zac, Isaac and Taylor Hanson weren’t in their 30s (Zac technically hits his new decade in two days…but you get the point).
Anyone who has listened to Hanson beyond their pre-pubescent ‘90s radio smash knows that there is a lot more to them than cherubic faces and sweet harmonies.
On Monday, the brothers played the first of a two-night stint at Center Stage during its “Roots & Rock ‘N’ Roll” tour, which is only hitting 10 cities.
For the fall jaunt, the band is playing one night of cover songs that influenced them and a second of hits and fan favorites.
Monday’s cover song fest spanned Sam & Dave (“Hold On, I’m Comin’”), The Beach Boys (“God Only Knows”), Billy Joel (“You May Be Right/Movin’ Out”), Paul Simon (“Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard/Cecilia”) and Motown (Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas) and kept the audience in happy sing-along mode.
Hanson might not attract teen-heartthrob-sized crowds anymore, but the 20-to-40-somethings who filled most of Center Stage are loyal and devoted, and after a 20-year career, that’s almost more important than a fleeting radio hit.
The brothers always play to their individual strengths, and they were on display vocally and physically. They have a really good visual effects team and they can make magic happen out of that big rental led screen, truly this adds a lot to the show, I can hardly imagine the show without it anymore.
Isaac, the cool man in black, applied his slightly raspy, rootsy tone to Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”; Zac battered cymbals and rocked his shaggy ‘do as he provided a gruffer voice for Joel’s “Movin’ Out”; and Taylor, with his suspenders and floppy forelock, is the soul man capable of veering from the screechy “Twist and Shout” to the gorgeous harmonies of “God Only Knows.”
That Beach Boys gem, which Taylor dedicated to “the genius, Brian Wilson,” was a highlight of the show. It’s a tricky song to replicate and of course the band didn’t have the crazy amount of instrumentation used on the original (although Hanson’s live sound was augmented by two additional musicians). But they managed the musical component well and the threesome provided the layered harmonies that are a hallmark of the song with precision and emotion.
While Tuesday’s show will focus on the band’s original material, they did sneak a few of their own tunes into Monday’s set list, including “This Time Around,” featuring Taylor’s robust keyboard playing and a sizzling solo from Isaac, and the giddy pop bauble, “Penny & Me.”
Regardless of their reputation among casual music listeners, Hanson has always been the real deal, and this tour showcasing their deep and varied influences was one way to prove it (Zac said in our recent interview that this is the most “nerve-wracking” tour he’s done – read it here).
As well, you’ve got to respect these young men for their continued ingenuity.