WASHINGTON POST
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HANSON
Live!
Who: Hanson When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday Where: State Theatre, Falls Church

Thursday, October 23, 2008; VA10

Mention the name Hanson, and you're likely to get a chorus of "MMMBop," the irresistible pop confection that made the Tulsa-bred brotherly trio teenybopper sensations in 1997.

That's the year that Hanson's debut CD, "Middle of Nowhere," sold more than 4 million albums in the United States and the group received three Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist and Record of the Year.

Just shy of his 23rd birthday, the youngest Hanson brother, Zac, who's married and has a 4-month-old, asserted that 11 years later, "We like playing 'MMMBop,' believe it or not."

Calling from his bunk on the band's tour bus on its way to Baltimore ("We're about to roll over to the venue"), Hanson feels no need to distance himself from a song he recorded when he was a preteen.

"Most people don't know what that song is really about," he said. "The first verse is all about how relationships and things in life fall apart. There's only going to be a few people that really become those friends that stay with you. For our fans, it's this anthem about the fact that they've gone through 11, 12 years of their life and they're still coming back to Hanson shows."

Hanson's fourth studio album, "The Walk," debuted in the Top 5 on Billboard's Independent Chart when it was released last year. The band -- Taylor, the handsome, blue-eye soul singer; older brother Isaac, filling in crunchy guitar chords; and Zac, pounding the drums -- is in the midst of a new tour, in many ways its most ambitious since the late '90s heyday.

The Walk Around the World tour isn't so-named because they are touring the globe (they will visit South America) but because the brothers are involved in a global effort to fight poverty in Africa.

"We had no idea or, to be honest, no intentions to launch this kind of an issue," Hanson said. The album, already titled "The Walk" after a song written years ago, was well underway when, "more by chance than anything, we had a meeting with some friends of ours who started telling us about something they were doing with technology."

The friends had developed a system, Hanson said, "making it faster, easier and safer to communicate with your doctor using cellphones through encrypted text messages" and were donating the technology to a research hospital in Soweto, South Africa.

Thinking "it could really be this tool to save lives," the Hansons went with their pals to South Africa to better understand AIDS-related issues and, though they had stopped recording to make the trip, thought that "maybe we should do something with our music while we're there."

The trio recorded with 20 ordinary kids in a middle school music class in Soweto, outside Johannesburg, and a chant of "Ngi ne themba" ("I have hope" in Zulu) became the stirring opening piece of "The Walk" CD.

Taking their efforts to the streets, the Hanson brothers usually host a one-mile walk in each city on their tour itinerary to bring attention to the cause as they pursue a goal of cumulatively walking 24,902 miles with their fans, the distance around the globe. (The location for the Washington walk will be announced at http://www.hanson.net shortly before the event.)

In addition, the band joined the Toms shoe company on a shoe drop, delivering 50,000 pairs to children in Africa. (Toms donates one pair of shoes for each pair sold in the United States.) And soon the trio will release a coffee table-book, "Take the Walk," with stories about the cause and an EP of newly recorded material, raising more money for African aid groups.

After discussing such heavy topics, it's an abrupt switch to ask about less worldly ones, and Hanson agreed. "It's a struggle for us, too, [but] I love to talk about music."

Speaking about the new EP, he said, "Several of the songs are intense. The others are not. In our mind, just because you're talking about an issue that's this potent or that affects so many million lives in a severe bad way, we can approach it with a sense of hope."

And a Hanson concert is still a mighty good time, with publications as disparate as Absolute Punk and New York's Village Voice praising the band for its invigorating live shows, full of catchy, hook-laden guitar-driven rock.

Breaking free from the major label that launched the band as teen pinups, Hanson became a truly indie rock band with the 2004 release of "Underneath" on their 3CG label, which spawned a Top 10 single hit in England, "Penny and Me." Continuing to write, produce and perform their own music, Hanson proved that it was no mere boy band but the real deal -- skilled musicians who could teach the music business a few things about finding and nurturing talent and a devoted fan base.

An industry veteran at an age when most kids are in middle school, Hanson is a charming young man who takes pride in his work and appreciates his luck.

"People used to ask us, 'What are you going to do in 10 years? What's your job going to be?' And we were like, 'Whattaya mean? We're a band. We're going to be making music and putting out records.' But you can't prove that to people until you actually do it."

Jonas Brothers, take note.


-- MARIANNE MEYER