While they've endured their share of mockery -- often getting shuffled in with the boy-band mania of the mid-'90s -- Hanson was always different from many of their teen counterparts.
For one, brothers Issac, Taylor and Zac are actual musicians -- all multi-instrumentalists from a young age -- rather than some formulaic "band" of teen singers thrown together by producers based on their appeal to young girls. While groups like N-Sync and Backstreet Boys seemed more focused on choreography, matching outfits and image, Hanson was always about the music, releasing two albums independently before being "discovered" and signed to Mercury records.
Flash-forward to 2013 and these once teen sensations are now grown men (ages 32, 30 and 27) with a sound that has evolved with them over the course of 16 years and eight more albums, including recent release, "Anthem," the band's most rock-driven album to date, which has seen both critical and commercial success since it came out in June. Unlike a lot of acts that began as kids, Hanson has done growing up right, relying on a steady stream of solid albums and live shows devoid of gimmicks or over-the-top personas designed to generate publicity and focusing instead on being good musicians and writing quality songs.
For this reason, I endured the gibing of my friends to catch their show at the Pageant on Thursday night, and am pleased to report that my first live Hanson experience definitely exceeded expectations. Choosing substance over style or flash, the Brothers H took to the minimalist stage decked only with a simple, black banner emblazoned with the "Anthem" cover logo, all three clad in black from head to toe. With Taylor declaring an enthusiastic "Let's go!" they launched right into the first cut from the new album, the heavier "Fired Up," which afforded eldest Issac to get in his first guitar solos of the night to the shrieking delight of the mostly 20-something female crowd.
They moved next into another "Anthem" tune, "I've Got Soul," a funkier cut that allowed the brothers to show off some of their signature harmonies as well as spotlighting Taylor's soaring vocals and keyboard skills. Though all three sing well, Taylor is by far the standout both vocally and in terms of overall star quality. "Scream and Be Free" provided the first sing-along moment and had a decidedly Maroon 5 sound to it.
Though the tunes from "Anthem" took precedence, Hanson did not let down their clearly loyal, die-hard fans, giving some attention to older material, starting with the infectious "This Time Around." Taylor and Issac took turns on vocals for the powerhouse tune that began with Taylor's delicately beautiful piano work and culminated in a full-on jam with Issac shredding on guitar and Taylor on his feet pounding the keys as fans jumped up and down, waving their hands in the air.
They then left the stage briefly while their techs changed out instruments for a mini acoustic set. Issac, picking up a mandolin, announced, "This is a song we haven't played much at all over last 15 or 16 years," as they began a great acoustic version of "Weird" from the "Middle of Nowhere" album with Taylor and Zac both on guitar. Each brother then took a turn onstage alone with a guitar for solo acoustic performances that highlighted each of their very different vocal styles.
Unfortunately, during this portion of the show the screaming and swooning of girls and incessant cell phone photography (with flash no less!) was bit of a distraction, so the return of the electric guitars and remainder of the band, including a bassist and rhythm guitarist/keyboardist, was welcome.
Ready to kick things back up a notch, Taylor and Zac swapped places, with Taylor sitting behind the drum kit and Zac taking turn on piano for the poppy-sweet "Juliet," followed by a cover of The Turtles classic "Happy Together." Upbeat tune "Waiting for This" and the heavier rock-driven "You Can't Stop Us" kept the energy going.
The real highlight for most fans came with bookended performances of their first major hit "MmmBop" and current single "Get the Girl Back," which had the entire dance floor in an all-out frenzy. They closed out the main set with another rock guitar-driven tune, "In the City," all three brothers shouting the chorus, "Do you love me?" as Issac and Taylor strutted across the stage, shaking hands with fans who clearly do. Encores "Lost Without Each Other" and "Already Home" were slightly anti-climactic and just seemed like icing on an already sweet cake.
In an intimate venue like the Pageant, on a stripped-down stage, the tremendous musical talent of the Hanson brothers became clearly evident. During their nearly two-hour set, all three sang lead vocals; Taylor played the piano, keyboard, guitar and drums; Issac played guitar and mandolin; and Zac played drums, guitar and piano; rotating from one instrument to the next effortlessly. They may have been just a trio of adorable kids when they started out; but that just reinforces the fact that these brothers have had music in their blood practically from the time they could walk and talk. Their skills have only gotten better with age.