Review: Hanson live in NYC

It’s 9 p.m. on a Monday and I’m walking toward Union Square, thinking about Hanson. When I was six years old, I couldn’t get enough of them: long hair, soprano voices hitting the perfect dog whistle pitch for elementary schoolers, album cover for Middle Of Nowhere that looked like it was Instagrammed before Instagram ever existed. It was potent stuff for a first-grader.

Now they’re adults, and they still play cheery pop rock. And I’m an adult, still stuck waiting for one last MMMbop. So I’m seeing Hanson at Irving Plaza, because the band is celebrating both a new album (“Anthem”) and their 21st anniversary as a group.

The exterior of the venue is deserted. Hmm, I think, maybe no one likes Hanson anymore. Then I hear screaming. By the time I’m inside, it’s high-decibel and hysterical. It’s a packed house. No one is outside because everyone is already here.

Already here, and ready to worship at the church of Hanson. These nice-looking girls bumping up against me and screaming bloody murder are my peers, the same chicks who grew up through the Lewinsky scandal listening to “Where’s The Love,” only now they have their hands on Bud Light tallboys. They’re also packed in so tight that it’s impossible to squeeze by any of them. They cede no territory. Hanson fans would do really well in land wars.

I was expecting to find a cloister of ‘90s nostalgia, some cryogenically frozen teen spirit, but as Hanson kicks off with “Thinking Of You,” I can see this fandom is very much alive and current. The crowd knows all the right hand signals—a kind of Hanson-specific semaphore. They know when to twirl their arms like lassoes, when to do a sort of energetic pointing motion with index fingers, when to jump up and down in time with Taylor as he makes wheezy harmonica noises.

Perhaps this eternal fandom has something to do with the band’s eternal cuteness. All three members, even Isaac, known to me as “the old one,” retain their boyish charm. (“ZACH I LOVE YOUR HAIR,” a girl yells during a quiet moment.) They’ve emerged from the ‘90s without cocaine-bloated faces or tribal arm tattoos. Isaac even has a nice Macklemore haircut. No wonder the concert seems like church—this kind of preservation alone is miraculous.

Plus, believe it or not, the songs haven’t gotten stale. The melodies hold up even better now that they’ve been tuned down like seven octaves, and with a phalanx of fans to back them up, they sound pretty incredible, part Jazon Mraz, part gospel choir.

“THEY’RE PLAYING ‘LUCY’!!!” squeals a blonde girl to her tall brunette friend. “Sorry,” says the friend to the girl behind them, who just took the shrieking right into her ear. “Carly’s very excited.” Both girls start soulfully gyrating.

21 years of musicianship, a faithful base of fans who know every lyric down to the last na na na, plus a heaping of natural charisma all add up to a shockingly good Hanson show. Taylor could probably start up a Jonestown-style cult and get people to sign up, no problem. The force is still strong with this one.

I, of course, still await the MMMbop. When it comes (preceded by a plug for the band’s signature beer, Mmmhops), I expect a positively leonine roar from the crowd, but instead they greet the classic with applause that could be described as merely average. I decide to take it as a sign from the audience that they aren’t choosing to favor “MMMbop” over any other hit, whether “This Time Around” or “I Will Come To You”; that they love Hanson for the flops as well as the hits. I start to see the lukewarm reception as kind of heartwarming. True fandom, hands waving. And in an MMMbop, I’m gone.