INK 19

Rockin' a Little Old School
House of Blues, Chicago, IL November 3, 2008
by Cindy Barrymore

If it's possible for a band to make you feel both old and young at the same time, Hanson is the band that can do it. Old because you remember they were kids when they released their 1997 #1 megahit "MMMBop," yet you feel eternally young from the sheer vigor that still permeates the music after 11 years. Now, grown up and married with children, Hanson's cuteness has worn off and mature musicianship has kicked in.

Time has stripped away previous comparisons to The Jackson 5 and Hanson's grungier counterpart, Silverchair. They've been officially thrust into the echelon of solid rock and roll. It may be only by virtue of their still-tender ages (Zac 23, Taylor 25, and Isaac 28) -- and the prepubescent girls that continue to swoon over them -- that anyone still equates them with bubblegum pop.

Playing to a nearly packed House of Blues, the Hanson brothers, backed by William Birkhead on bass and Dimitrius Collins on keyboards and a Lenny Kravitz playing style on guitar, seem to be feeling quite a bit more soulful these days, if only in concert. The first of their two Chicago shows for their Walk Around the World Tour, they opened with a cover of Sly & The Family Stone's "(I Want to Take You) Higher," which segued well into their own potent riff, "Been There Before." Even more impressive than their studio releases were live versions of "Crazy Beautiful" and the anthemic "Blue Sky."

The acoustic set, which included the social-conscious hit "Take Our Chances," brought the youngest Hanson brother Zac from behind his drum kit onto a smaller set of hand drums center stage alongside his brothers. He also sung lead and played piano on the minimalist ballad "On the Rocks," where he earned his share of swooning screams, as well as ample flicks of the lighters.

Earning his own moniker of hardest working man in show business, Taylor darted between playing keyboards, piano and tambourine and working the masses, although the latter effort was rarely necessary to incite the attentive crowd whose chorus of Hanson repertory was clear and precise lip sync. The only lull occurred during Isaac's rendition of Bill Withers' 1970s hit, "Use Me." Although Isaac crooned a decent heart-felt melody, the lyrics may have proven a little too old-school for the young crowd of millennials, who then gleefully replaced their lack of familiarity with the song with bobbing heads and howls of approval. Hanson also paid additional homage to Withers, performing "Ain't No Sunshine" the next night.

Earlier in the day, Isaac and Taylor sat at the Mac putting together the show's set list from their now fifty-plus strong repertoire. "It's a matter of deciding what to play," Taylor said. The choice gets harder, but as with any band each new year brings about a new (and hopefully better) interpretation. You know they're going to perform "MMMBop." That's still a crowd pleaser. To be fair though, the band has evolved from the Middle of Nowhere, and the song no longer epitomizes their sound.