Hanson-gone-indie has blue-collar charm
Updated: 12/02/07 7:31 AM

If reality TV has taught us anything, it’s that child stars grow up to become psychologically unstable has-beens.

By this logic, the members of Hanson should be doing their best Leif Garrett impersonations right about now. After all, it’s been a decade since the trio’s unavoidable smash “MmmBop” was cramming airwaves.

But “Middle of Nowhere,” the album that contained that pop nugget, was not prophetically titled. Unless you’ve been a loyal fan of this band of brothers (guitarist Isaac, vocalist/keyboardist Taylor and drummer Zac) over the years, here’s what you probably didn’t know: Since fading from the mainstream pop landscape, Hanson has become a wildly successful independent band, releasing albums on its own label, 3CG Records. Its 2004 release, “Underneath,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Independent Chart. The band’s most recent effort, “The Walk,” is also a 3CG release.

Given that Hanson is beating the odds simply by staying together, I felt like it was unfair to expect the band to put on a legitimately good show Saturday night. But as I walked into a wall-to-wall throng of fans in Club Infinity in Clarence, it was clear that nobody else shared my opinion. There was a buzz in the room, the kind where hundreds cheer the roadie as he checks the mics, amped with sheer anticipation. Apparently, some people had actually camped overnight in the parking lot. Before they played a note, Hanson’s credibility was palpable.

And when the trio did hit the stage, flanked by a bassist and rhythm guitarist, they presented a tight, polished set, chock-full of sunny melodies, rootsy grooves and a debt to classic soul. All three members have clearly worked diligently on their playing and songwriting chops, and Hanson’s sound has evolved from a lustrous Jackson 5 sheen to a more robust brand of pop music — one that strives for a Van Morrisonesque blend of sweet balladry and rollicking rhythm and blues.

Sure, the band’s lyrics aren’t exactly poignant — the refrain “you’re crazy beautiful” just about sums it up — and there was nothing mind-blowingly original about its set, but at the end of the day, it all just adds to Hanson’s newfound blue-collar charm.

While they’ll probably be best remembered for what they did as tweens and teens, the adult Hanson has a work ethic and an attitude that would please the most ardent indie rock snob. Before performing the song “Strong Enough to Break,” a tune about Hanson’s unsavory major label experiences, Isaac thanked his fans for supporting his band’s independent albums, calling the music industry “totally messed up.”

The brothers then proceeded to play a clutch of stripped-down acoustic tunes, including “MmmBop,” which put the spotlight on their gorgeous three-part harmonies — while they’re no Brian, Carl and Dennis, it’s no wonder that Hanson has cited The Beach Boys as an influence.

When bubble gum is chewed for too long, it’s tasteless, disgusting and unhealthy to swallow. By adding some good oldfashioned rock, soul and elbow grease to the formula, Hanson’s brand is still bursting with flavor.