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HANSON

Taking "The Walk" with Hanson

REVIEWER: Lynn Malpass

I took the walk!

Saturday, May 3rd, as I was parking my car in the municipal garage across the street from the Lancaster music venue The Chameleon before seeing Hanson perform, I was thinking it was going to be a pretty difficult day. For starters, it had been cool and rainy, and I am not a fan of standing outside for hours for a concert in cool, rainy weather. I'm not a fan for standing outside for a concert even in pleasant weather, either, hence the dilemma. Second, I had given my day up for a show that, while I knew it would be good, I wondered just how good it could really be considering the venue: I've been to The Chameleon many times before. It's okay, but not too high on my 'venues of choice' list for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the horrible lighting and the microscopic stage. For local bands, yes, the place has been a favorite, but I have always questioned its ability to handle shows on a more national scale. I've never bothered to attend any there for these very reasons. I was a little surprised Hanson would pick that venue to play, considering.

I also had this fear that I would show up and immediately be singled out as a "non-fan" and be bludgeoned to a pulp by the wit and wisdom of Hanson fangirls spouting their Hanson-fu, and how many times they'd met which brother, and making sure that I knew my "place," considering I am not a member of any fan club, nor do I have any 'rating' of how many Hanson shows I've attended. Die-hard fans - of any band - can be scary. I was, to say the least, a bit apprehensive as I got out of my car and checked my photo gear one last time before bravely heading off. Off to fight the battle of the uninformed press against the world in which Hanson are Gods among female fans and teenie rag readers the world over. I readied my armor and...

Okay, I'm exaggerating. Hugely.

Not about the weather or the venue; those were true concerns of mine as I readied to take part in Hanson's awareness Walk in Lancaster, a few hours before the show. But I already knew some things about Hanson - unlike a lot of other people who assume things about this band - most importantly that we are long gone from the days of screaming teenies and "The Unmentionable Song" because, well... time goes on. Trends and tastes change. People grow, and grow up, fans and performers alike. So even though I might have been a little hesitant going into this whole thing, if you read nothing more beyond this point, let me summarize here neatly and say that, bottom line, Hanson is not the band you still think they are... unless you are one of the ones that already knows this. And if you don't know this, it behooves you to find out just who they are these days, at least if you really call yourself a music lover. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. You'll definitely be missing out on something magnificent if you don't.

I waited around with the throngs of fans who had shown up early to participate in the day's pre-concert "Walk," an awareness walk that Hanson have been participating in since the start of The Walk Tour last fall. We made small-talk. I met people who had been following the band and they told me about previous concerts and walks. I met kids and parents. Pre-teenagers, all the way up to forty- and fifty-somethings. People male and female, all religions and colors and backgrounds. Today, Hanson fans come every way imaginable, and none of them are screaming and shrieking - at least not until the show - as it's assumed they all are. After my experience that day, I'm happy and proud to call myself a Hanson fan, as well.

This particular walk was Hanson's "65th" awareness walk with their fans. The brothers have participated in every one, too. Barefoot. Even in snow and rain apparently, though I'm thankful we lucked out and the threat of rain dissipated as the afternoon went on, leaving us with a nice, spring day. Why barefoot, you may ask? It all has to do with the charity effort the band has been participating in, and the partner they're doing it with, Tom's Shoes. Back during the making of their latest album, The Walk (anyone see a trend here?), the brothers spent some time in South Africa recording parts of the album, their second release as their own independent label (read more about all of this here and here) . While there, they stayed at, of all places, an orphanage and experienced firsthand the poverty happening there. The sickness. The pleasure that people who had nothing, not even shoes on their feet, could get from the simple things in life, including music.

Upon returning from their musical sabbatical, the brothers took that experience, took their ability (as celebrities) to do something worthwhile and good, and created The Walk, the awareness walks they do before playing for their fans. They aren't trying to change the world overnight by any means, but as Taylor so enthusiastically quoted to us repeatedly throughout the day and the evening's performance, change starts now, and starts with us, and it's up to us to continue to make change, no matter what the cause, no matter how small the effort. Their way of helping? To promote a massive charity effort with Tom's Shoes, and their fans, to donate shoes - seemingly so trite and insignificant, yet so vital for a productive life - to these impoverished children and give them a literal leg up in their lives. To date, the effort has donated over 58,000 pairs of Tom's Shoes, and the number is still climbing thanks to everyone participating in these walks, donating, and spreading the word.

Now that number includes me, as well as the 350+ participants in the Lancaster Walk, which I understand was one of the biggest turnouts for a walk, yet. Imagine the odd looks from the people who poked their heads out of their houses to see what was going on. The drivers in cars who waited at intersections, staring, as 350 barefoot people, led by a tall, thin, barefoot man with a baseball hat and a bullhorn, crossed the city streets. We probably looked more like a protest than an awareness group as we made our way along, although quite a few people did ask what was going on. Some walkers carried signs as well, and held them out to be seen.

We congregated at the halfway point in our "mere" one mile walk, the local high school grounds, where Taylor stood up on the base of the flagpole atop a grassy rise, accompanied by his brothers. There he addressed us for a twenty-minute-long inspirational speech about Hanson's experiences in Mozambique, and about how the children they met had nothing, yet they still had hope and still had the ability to be happy. Typical charity sob story you're saying, right? Perhaps. But the point here is not really what the cause is, but to just pick one, as Taylor mentioned. Pick something. Do something. Create change. Nobody else is going to do it first, so we have to do it first. You do. And I do. Inspiring, as most speeches like that are, but also very heartfelt and genuine.

We all made the walk back to the venue smiling and chatting, brothers Taylor, Zac and Isaac intermingling and chatting more with their fans as we did. The group gathered once more outside the venue where the Walk had started, and Taylor and his bullhorn once more addressed us, this time in thanks for bothering to participate and take off our shoes to walk. Taylor Hanson likes to talk. But he has great things to say, and he was very worth listening to. By the time the brothers bid us farewell until showtime, spirits among the group were high despite some feet being bruised and scuffed, and even cut in one case. All a clear reminder of how priviledged we really are to simply have shoes. We were all soon anticipating the evening's main event, however. That anticipation aggravating my already-complaining tummy, I ventured off to find food, rest my sore, tired feet, and contemplate a little bit on the day thus far.

When it was finally showtime, I was met with my last surprise. The inside of the venue had been completely redone since my last time there in the fall and now boasted a (slightly) enlarged, redone stage, among other things and most importantly, a brand new lighting setup. As the first band took the stage - Kate Vogele with her touring band - I found myself picking up on the atmosphere that surrounded me, something I had never felt at this venue before, and I knew at that point that I was about to see something amazing. The bespeckled Vogele, who I had never heard before, did her set on the small stage to the warm response of the sold-out house, setting the tone for a fun evening. This was turning into a very well-planned, well-done show and for those involved with Hanson and their tour, I was relieved and happy for this.

After Kate Vogele and co. came Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers, who I have also never heard of. They, too, had me dancing a bit, and getting into their fun tunes. Talented guys, all of them. I love it when bands drag out more obscure "rock band" instruments, adding something a little different to their set. The Sixers had a keyboard, key-tar and tuba-playing bassist. Come to think of it, the drummer for Kate Vogele played a mandolin, too. I like different. I like creativity in music. In general, neither of these bands disappointed, and I'm sure gained a number of new fans after their sets. Good music, all around. The best yet to come.

When Hanson then took the stage in front of the packed house at The Chameleon, launching into their set with "Great Divide," it seemed for a few moments that all the money obviously having been spent on renovations at the venue was for naught. The fans were going to "tear it down," simple as that. To say there were some people happy to be there was an understatement. I love that in a crowd. Feeling everyone else's vibe, everyone else's excitement, making the event that much more of an experience for me. Of course this kind of reaction affects the bands as well, and Hanson threw themselves wholeheartedly into a long, enthusiastic set. Not once did it seem like there was anywhere else they would rather be at that moment than in Lancaster, PA, playing that tiny stage at The Chameleon for their fans.

The set played was impressive. They played a lot of songs, so I'm not going to go through every one, but suffice to say we were treated to most of the entire new album, as well as favorites like "Penny and Me," "Crazy Beautiful," "Been There Before," and "Strong Enough," to name just a few. They came out rocking, the first part of their set a burst of energy, accentuated for me by Hanson's cover of "Hole in My Life," by The Police. I grew up a Police fan. I was really blown away to hear them play this. My respect for Hanson immediately jumped, that they picked such an obscure song to cover. And - Police fans, close your eyes, skip to the next paragraph - they played it better than the original. I've seen The Police. They don't play their own song that good.

Settling things down for a little while the band continued with an acoustic set, Isaac taking up an acoustic guitar, Zac coming out from behind his drum set to keep tempo with a bongo and Taylor alternating between piano and acoustic guitar. This was the true meaning of an 'intimate acoustic set', as I'm sure everyone in the venue felt like they were being sung and played to, personally. The soft-spoken interaction with the audience was nice, too. "Go," one of my favorites on The Walk, was beautifully sung by Zac, accompanied by his brothers. I was very surprised when the band played an acoustic, slowed-down version of "MMMBop" (I was under the impression that they did not play it live anymore), but done acoustically, voices from the audience helping Taylor on the chorus, it was nicely presented. Oh, and of course, Zac singing and playing "The Walk" at the piano while the others left the stage for a break; talk about having "a moment" with your audience. Beautifully done.

Speeding things up once more after Zac's moving solo, Hanson returned to the stage in full force and got back into things with songs like "Blue Sky," "Running Man" and yet another surprise, a cover of Lenny Kravitz's "Let Love Rule." That respect I mentioned before? It jumped yet again. There are so many good songs out there that this band could be covering, and their choice in the more obscure (or at least less suspected), "quality" songs really appeals to my sense of good musicianship. Somewhere in the midst of the end of the set there was this humorous little solo, Ike singing a part of "Let's Get It On," wooing the audience and getting screams and catcalls in response, but my head was still processing the fact that Hanson had just covered The Police and Lenny Kravitz.

When they played their last song, "Something Going On," of course nobody was ready to say goodbye for the night, but I can at least say I was filled with this feeling of satisfaction that said "Now THAT was a concert!"

The encore consisted of energetic performances of U2's "In A Little While," and "Rock and Roll Razorblade," an obvious favorite. The band built things up to an impressive ending with "Rock and Roll Razorblade," after which they put down their instruments, came forward on the stage, and Taylor addressed the audience one last time for the band. He spoke to us all like we were his best friends. Of course there was the expected, the mention of the charity and of Tom's Shoes, the typical thanks, and the bits of insight into life in Hanson. However, the closer for his speech, and for the evening, was simply... perfect. An acapella rendition of "Great Divide," just three talented men and a mic, that had me, literally, in tears... and I was not the only one.

If you've made it this far in the reading, rejoice! The end is near. Isn't much more to tell, as I left the venue soon after. Hanging around to try to get a moment to express my gratitude for one of the best concerts I'd been to, it seemed like a nice idea at first, but I know those performers had their hands full after that show, with the amount of hopeful fans sticking around seeking an encounter. It could wait until next time, I decided. And there will be a next time, for me at least. Most definitely.

For those of you who might be reading this, somehow still questioning this band, all I can say is to go see them before you continue to cling to your little pre-conceived judgement that three little boys from Oklahoma who got famous off bubble-gum pop can't possibly be that good. I'm a fan of many, many kinds of music, and am known to listen to anything from rock (pick your style) to metalcore to classical to ska to... you get the point. Most importantly though, I can appreciate good music - no matter what the genre - when I hear it. Go see Hanson, because they will blow you away with how good they really are. How good the music is, the variety and maturity of it. Go see them later this summer, because they'll be back on tour again in a few months, playing more cozy venues, where you can feel like you're really taking part in something special. Then come back and try to say you aren't impressed as hell. I dare you to. I don't think you'll be able to, in all honesty.

There is a lot of information available about Hanson, what they've been up to lately, and their charity efforts with Tom's Shoes at their official website, www.hanson.net. You can also find them, and hear some of their latest songs, at www.myspace.com/hanson.

You can learn more about the Walk charity by visiting Tom's Shoes. Buy. Donate. Get involved. Tell them Hanson sent you. (They're listed as a partner under the "Press" link).