Sunday, 3 June 2018

Animal Instincts - a song-by-song review of Hanson's 2018 Members EP


Are you ready? Let's start.












Working

When I first heard the preview clip that was posted on HNET, I wasn’t too impressed. It sounded an awful lot like Til New Year’s Night - one of Isaac’s leads on the Finally, It’s Christmas album: a Chuck Berry-style rock’n’roll song with a ‘50s vibe and easy rhymes. Fun, but not particularly memorable.

Hearing the full song, however, changed my mind. Blame the intro, with its infectious guitar riff and catchy handclaps: it’s impossible to sit still while you listen to it, even if it’s only for some subtle Isaac-style pigeon-neck moves. Or blame Carlos Sosa’s saxophone: this is one of those rare exceptions when I actually welcome a horns part. And what to say about ‘that’ guitar solo, which, according to the liner notes, was provided by none other than J.D. McPherson? Did he owe Hanson a favour for bailing on BTTI 2017? Who knows, and I would have liked to be able to say that Working featured Isaac’s best guitar solo to date, but maybe that’s still to come.

Unsurprisingly, the lyrics are this song’s weak point: like in the case of Till New Year's Night, you get a feeling that Isaac wasn’t going for deep and meaningful here:

Six am rolling out of bed
Putting on my pants, fixing my hair

I’m sure we can all imagine Isaac fixing his hair at six in the morning (#OldManPriorities), but what about the rest?

Talking to my boss about my check
‘Cause my payroll’s so small gives me a crick in the neck


Blue Collar Hanson?

Working is an act of rebellion to blue collar life, but Isaac Hanson is not exactly Springsteen and I can’t quite buy the idea of a Hanson brother clocking into factory job and complaining about his wages - and no, negotiating a severance deal from Def Jam doesn’t quite count as working class life experience. But this is classic rock’n’roll after all, and this kind of song is more about style than content. Besides, Isaac’s vocals are absolutely on point, so I think I can give him a pass. Is this going to be my favourite Isaac lead of all time? No. But play it again, Sam.

Skip or Play? Play!

Goldminer

I may not be, technically, a ‘Zac girl’, but some of my favourite Hanson songs of all time are also Zac leads: Fire on the Mountain, The Walk, I Am. But I do find that a lot of Zac leads sound quite similar, especially in recent years: Juliet, Get So Low, and most recently Ghost Writer, these songs all seem to follow the same template, all underscored by that kind of Beatles-esque, almost percussive piano style. Unfortunately, Goldminer also falls into that category and is so similar to last year’s Ghost Writer that I keep mixing the titles in my head - as they both start with the letter ‘G’.

What do you mean this sounds like "Ghost Writer"?

The lyrics, as you may have guessed, are about a woman who is after men’s money:

She’s on the prowl, looking for money
She’s a gold miner
Stealing your cents
Robbing you blind
Open your eyes, this girl’s nothing but trouble.

I won’t launch into an in-depth, feminist-centred tirade, mostly because I think that laziness, rather than misogyny, is the driving force behind these lyrics. Goldminer leaves me indifferent, and I expect more from Zac Hanson: without going as far back as his most inspired, Walk-era output, even last year’s Ghost Writer was better than this.

Skip or Play? Skip.

Young and Dumb

What does this ethereal, drum sequencing led, synth-heavy intro remind you of? Cast your mind back to 2015’s Inside the Box members EP and to its best song, the achingly beautiful Isaac lead Grace Unknown. Yes? Can you hear the resemblance? Good, let’s keep going. Zac’s drums kick in about 30 seconds into the song, a slow, dull beat that gradually builds up into a crescendo that gives the song a sort of big ‘80s sound, of the kind that almost screams for a music video and a giant fan pointed at Zac’s hair.

As this is a Taylor lead, unsurprisingly the lyrics have “Taylor” written all over them:

I pursued happiness
A tapestry of fluorescent bliss
But I’m dying on the vine

(*Nerd Alert: in the liner notes, 'fluorescent'  is incorrectly spelt as ‘florescent’- a quick look at the dictionary confirms that even in US English there should be a ‘u’. 'Florescent' is a totally different word.)

Don’t recognize the view from here
A poor reflection in the rearview mirror

Aside from the way Taylor says ‘mirror’ as ‘me-yah’, which is a prime example of Hanson’s quirky enunciation, these are lyrics you can geek out to - vague enough to appeal to a wide range of listeners, but personal enough to let you believe you might be getting some insight how Taylor really feels.

Like Isaac in Working, in Young and Dumb Taylor, too, shows a fascination with low paid jobs; it is, however, true that poverty and struggle have been romanticised in literature, poetry and the folk tradition since the beginning of time.

I tried living in the ivory tower
Held down three jobs at ten an hour
Just to get into the door

However, there are a couple of lines that could come from Taylor’s personal experience:

Been a hero and a deadbeat
A pencil pusher and a piece of meat

Whether they’re based on life experience or purely fictional, these are good lyrics - the kind that you want to dissect, speculate and interpret to your heart’s content. Then, the bridge comes at 2:35 and it’s pretty epic:

It’s hard enough
To know it’s not enough to know better
If these aching bones
and these jagged stones go together

Can you hear the Phil Collins-era Genesis? Hanson have given them a nod before, when they covered Invisible Touch during a Livestream in November 2014. That bridge is a perfect amalgamation of Genesis and Phil Collins’ ‘80s solo work, and on top of that, it features some killer Hanson harmonies. I also love how, in the chorus, 'young' rises and 'dumb' falls, perfectly conveying the song's sense of disillusionment, of youth slipping away.

Like Grace Unknown, Young and Dumb is a song with a ‘big sound’ and a chorus that soars; Taylor’s voice is great when he sticks to his mid-range, as he did in No Rest for the Weary from 2016's Loud EP. The lyrics are imaginative and inspired, with the small, notable exception of a couplet at the end:

Ashes to ashes
We’ll all end up in a casket

Maybe if the EP recording process didn’t happen in the space of a week, those two lines would have been dragged into the trash basket, or filed in the outtakes folder with other material that sounded great at 2:00 AM in a sleep-deprived hallucinatory state. Where the first line soars with its biblical tone, rhyming it with 'casket' in the second line slams it back down to the ground, and any sense of poetry is lost to a word coming straight out of a funeral director's catalogue. ('Grave' would have been a better choice of words, but of course, it didn't rhyme).

I bagged the best song of the EP!

As usual, I’m nit-picking: Young and Dumb is, without a doubt, one of the best songs Hanson have recorded since Sound of Light and one that showcases Taylor’s voice at its best.

Play or Skip? Play.

Bad for Me

First of all, let’s all consider this: Animal Instincts features two Isaac leads. Two. This, alone, is a reason to celebrate. There have been EPs with no Isaac lead at all, and EPs with Isaac leads that didn’t sound much like Isaac leads, like What’s Your Name from Music Made for Humans. In terms of Isaac-awesomeness, this year’s EP brings us a bumper crop.

With this premise in mind, I think it’s fair to say that Bad for Me doesn't stray too far from familiar territory: it’s a mid-tempo ballad, with typical ‘tortured Isaac’ lyrics, very much along the lines of Live for Me and Being Me (interestingly, all three songs have 'me' in the title). The vocals are soft at first, almost whispered; so you’re almost unprepared for the rush of emotion that comes at 1:40, when Isaac cranks it up a few notches and belts it out, his voice almost cracking, the way it does when Isaac sings like he means it. That’s the kind of Isaac lead I want to hear, and even if I don’t care much for love songs, I could hear Isaac sing a recipe book in this way and I'd be happy.

Play or Skip? Do you even have to ask?

Sophia

If Isaac fans are in total shock over this year's two leads, Zac fans are by now used to getting multiple offerings from Little Drummer Boy. If I were Taylor, I’d start to worry. But I digress: let’s talk about Sophia:

- Standard fare of piano-as-percussion: check
- Beatles-esque melodies: check
- A woman’s name as the title: check
- Lyrics about a quirky, whimsical, ‘free spirit’ female character: check.

This is all beginning to sound like Zac-Hanson-by-numbers and I can’t help thinking, ‘come on Zac, you know you can do better than this’. I hope that this only a phase, possibly a consequence of all the time and effort the band has been putting into the String Theory project. With the yearly EP happening regardless of other commitments, Hanson have to come up with five songs, whether their creative juices are depleted or not. It’s the trade-off for their ‘contract’ with us fans and one that I will still take over getting no new music at all.

With its simple piano chords and catchy chorus, Sophia will keep playing in your head long after you’ve hit the ‘stop’ button, and soon you'll be blasting Slayer to cleanse your hearing, all to no avail, because after one single spin, SOPHIIIIIIAAAAAA will have wormed its way into your brain and only horse sedatives will put you out of your misery and make it stop.

Play or Skip? Skip, or be ready to face the inevitable consequences.




The Final Verdict

There’s a lot that I don’t love about Animal Instincts, starting with its title, which isn’t very imaginative and bears no connection to any of the EP's five songs. As for the artwork, I don't understand it: is it supposed to be a kind of ‘so bad it’s good’ literal interpretation of, well, animal instincts? Is it supposed to appeal to dog loving fans*? Or are Hanson testing the market to see what they can get away with? After the “Fanson for Life” merch, everything is possible, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a range of Hanson-branded pet merch appeared in the store at some point in the near future (believe it or not, people have been asking for it on the forum).

[*Confession: I am not a fan of dogs, with the exception of the two pictured below]

Baxter, (left) and Penny (right). Credit to Jodie.

In all honesty, I had low expectations for this EP for several reasons, not least because this year Hanson had been keeping very quiet about the whole writing and recording process, with no weekly ‘making of’ streams*, which lead me to suspect that maybe the band had reservations about the quality of the songs. As it turned out, things had just got too hectic at Hanson HQ before the EP’s official release and the 'Making of' Animal Instinct streams are now happening, starting on Friday 8 June. There will be a total of 5 streams, one each Friday through 6 July and looping throughout each weekend. So if you haven't renewed your membership yet, now's the time.

Ultimately, what matters is the music, and this year’s EP contains, at least for me, more hits than misses, owing it in part to the two, did I mention two, Isaac leads and a really strong Taylor lead which is already showing early signs of becoming a fan favourite. Sadly, both Zac leads are this EP’s weakest links for me, so I’ll keep listening to his best work and hope that any future songwriting will be more inspired.



Animal Instincts is not going to replace Sound of Light as my favourite Hanson Members EP of all time, but neither is it going to take the bottom place in the list (that belongs to Music Made for Humans). What is certain is that the 2018 Members EP will go down in Hanson history as The One With Two Isaac Leads. If that’s a sign of things to come, suddenly the future is looking bright in Hansonland.

It's about dogs, apparently


Animal Instinct is included as part of the 2018 Fan Club membership. Join today at Hanson.net 

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Fired Up in the Fjords: Norway Gets the Hanson Fever

At some point in 2017 Hanson announced that in 2018 they would play three We Love The '90s festivals in the Norwegian cities of Stavanger, Oslo and Bergen.

Hanson had played at the same kind of festival a couple of years earlier in Belgium, and back then I had decided not to go: the idea of a whole night of the worst type of '90s music was my idea of hell. For that exact reason, I wasn’t planning to go to Norway either, until a full Hanson show was announced out of the blue in early December. The location? Ålesund, a town straddling two islands in the north of the country, a stone’s throw from the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site Geiranger fjord. I’d wanted to visit Norway for a long time: in my teens I'd been a fan of the Norwegian pop-band A-ha, and had Norwegian friends, one of whom I’m still in touch with. It was fate: I was going to Norway.

Don't know a-ha? You should.

The Stars Align in Ålesund

I had no great expectations for this show, its main appeal being the fact that the venue, the Terminalen Bysene, holds approximately 600 people. I love small venues, and although I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Hanson play to a smaller crowd before (Rome 2013: about 25 people and a couple of stray dogs*), this was definitely going to be the smallest venue so far. As Hanson had never played in Norway before, I figured that the setlist would be a copy-and-paste job from the MOE tour, with no major surprises, but still a good excuse to visit Norway.

[*Hyperbole warning. But Rome was a very under-sold show.]

Ålesund

You know when the stars align and everything turns out to be pretty much perfect? Well - that was Ålesund. The day before the show, a friend of mine won a M&G through a competition organised by the venue. Unlike official M&Gs, my friend’s prize included a plus one, and she invited me to go with her. That threw the both of us into a spin, as we were planning to have a very laid back, ‘turn up whenever’ show day. Instead, the Hair, Wadrobe & Make-up Department would have to work overtime because, well, there would pictures, right?

On the morning of the show, with no plans to line up early, I was putting on the 14th layer of make-up when one of my friends, out on a reconnaissance, texted me to say that the venue were doing their own numbering system, and were telling fans to take a number and come back at doors. That kind of thing had never happened before, and let’s just say that my choice of booking the closest hotel to the venue, rather than one with the nicest rooms, had once again paid off*. Within approximately three nanoseconds, I had legged it downstairs, grabbed some friends from the café, and before you had time to say her er jeg, we were in front of a lovely Australian woman called Esther, who handed me a ticket numbered 26. Not bad, not bad at all, considering that this was going to be a zero-effort type of show anyway. So I went back to my room and set out to add the 15th layer of make-up; after three nights of getting very little sleep, that was more of a necessity rather than an exercise in vanity.

[* Like in Paris 2017, when I forgot my ID for the MOE and was able to run back to the hotel which was only a couple of doors down from the venue.]

If only all venues did this.

My friend had been told to be at the venue by 5:15 PM, so we decided that we had to be there by 5 PM at the latest, because the venue was a whole 30 seconds walk from the hotel and anything could happen along the way: we could be abducted by aliens, or fall into a manhole, or be hit by an avalanche from the nearby mountains. It was not worth the risk. We got there early and chatted with the other lucky winners as we waited. After a while, Esther came out and said we could go in individually or in pairs. I told my friend, ‘you’re the winner, your call!’, but she decided that we’d go in together, for mutual moral support. I was very happy with that, because by that point I was suffering with a touch of Hanxiety*.

When I walked into the venue though, as it usually happens, my nervousness disappeared: I’d met them before and if there is one Hanson Dogma I believe in, is that Isaac, Taylor and Zac are really down-to-earth guys who always do their best to make their fans feel at ease.

[*A well-known condition among fans of the band.]

Totally not nervous.

It was warm inside, and as Esther showed us where we could put down our coats and bags, I couldn’t help noticing a robed, bearded Orthodox priest, just hanging around as if he totally belonged in a music venue: an incongruous presence during a rock’n’roll band’s M&Gs session. Interesting, I thought.

Hanson greeted us warmly, and as I shook Isaac's hand, I joked "we might have met once before". Indeed, only four months before, I'd had my photo taken with the band at BTTI 2018.
“How’s Norway treating you?” Zac asked me.
“Cold.” I said.
I always find Zac really easy to talk to, and once again, I ended up talking to him the most, about Norway and our sightseeing plans for Oslo. When I asked Isaac if they had any surprises planned for the setlist, it was Zac who replied, saying something like ‘you guys have been to a lot of shows but these fans haven’t ever seen us play before’, to which Isaac added that maybe they’d do "I Don’t Want to Go Home" (spoiler: they didn’t). Before I knew it, Esther was calling time and as we said our goodbyes Zac, said to me ‘I hope you have another layer to wear’. He obviously knows that Hanson hypothermia is a real phenomenon. We picked up our coats and bags and wrapped up warm before walking back out into the Norwegian chill. A couple of G&Ts were swiftly downed: our close encounter with the band finally over, we could finally relax*.

[*We didn't want to risk getting accidentally drunk before our M&G.]

Meeting Hanson with my friend.

In years of going to concerts, I can honestly say that I have never come across better venue management than at the Terminalen: doors opened at 8 and by around 7 PM, the wonderful Esther started to get everybody in line by ticket number. As more people arrived, she would call out the previous number, so that every new arrival could slot into the right spot in the queue. It was a concert goer's dream, and it showed that queue management can be done, even at Hanson shows. Esther, if you are reading this, know that you are now a legend among Hanson fans, and have joined the Pantheon of Venue Staff, together with PRY security in Milan, Laura from ShowSec in London and Angela, also from ShowSec, in Manchester.

I had expected to be standing at the back for this show, but because of my number and the fact that the Isaac side is always less in demand*, I had a perfect second-almost-front row, behind my friend and another girl, and although I wasn’t quite at the barrier, I had nobody in front of me. You know what that means, right? An unobstructed view of Isaac and a half decent chance of taking some good pictures.

[*The fools!]




The Show
(Setlist)

To my surprise, the setlist turned out not to be a complete copy and paste from the MOE tour. The show opened with “Waiting for This”, and stayed with Shout it Out with “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’”. If what followed, “Where’s the Love”, was a predictable choice, “Runaway Run” wasn’t. As I had expected, the set was heavy on the first three albums and Shout It Out; strangely, The Walk was completely omitted although * and Anthem was given a nod through “Fired Up” and “Get The Girl Back”. There were a couple of welcome and rarely played (at least in Europe) choices like “Musical Ride” and “Wish I Was There”, which was performed at the front of the stage, so that we could at least see Zac. “Penny and Me” was given a poignant acoustic performance, and Hanson’s 2017 single, “I Was Born”, got everybody pumping their fists in the air.

[*Thank you Viktoria for reminding me that "Been There Before" is actually from The Walk"!]



It was a great, high energy concert and the guys looked as if they were really enjoying themselves.  The crowd, which was mostly made up of Norwegians with a smattering of other nationalities, was equally warm and responsive, with none of the aggressive, obnoxious behaviour that we sometimes have to suffer at Hanson shows.

With my friends at the show.
Afterwards, as I was making my way out of the venue, I spotted another Orthodox priest. Wait, no, there were two. No, maybe three? By the time we had made it outside, a whole gaggle of Orthodox priests and a nun had emerged and were standing by the van, clearly waiting for Hanson. I love this band - where others would have groupies and assorted hangers-on as their entourage, these guys bring a posse of Orthodox priests to their shows. If this isn’t subverting the rules of rock’n’roll, I don’t know what is.

It didn’t take long for Hanson to come out, but they quickly got into the van, together with the priests. I felt a bit sorry for the Norwegian fans, who were hoping to meet the guys, but soon Isaac came out of the van again, and asked for everybody to stand back. Why was Isaac, and not the driver, being sent out to direct traffic? Before I had time to take to Twitter and complain for the inhumane treatment of the most put-upon Hanson brother, however, Zac and Taylor had also come out of the van, and soon all three were signing autographs and taking photos with fans, including two of my friends. They didn’t stay out very long, possibly because it would have meant imposing on their clerical guests, but it was a nice gesture towards the Norwegian fans who had never had the opportunity to meet the band before.

My verdict on the show? It was one of the best regular Hanson shows I’ve been to so far, also partly thanks to the small, intimate venue that looked packed without feeling claustrophobic. The setlist was less predictable than I had expected, and let’s be fair, I’ve been spoilt with the BTTI shows over the past four years, so I’m bound to always miss the inclusion of EP songs and deep cuts. Undoubtedly, Hanson’s choice of setlist made sense for this particular show, and I hope that Norwegian fans will get to hear some of the rare stuff soon.

Next stop? Oslo.



Questioning My Life Decisions in Oslo: a preamble (feel free to skip)

As Hanson fans from ‘way back when’ tend to be in their early 30s now, it’s not surprising that for a lot of them the 90’s will always be the decade that gave us the Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. But I am older, and for me, the '90s will only ever mean the Seattle grunge scene and, to a lesser extent, the Britpop and indie music I danced to in dingy, sweaty basement nightclubs every Friday and Saturday night as a university student in the mid-nineties. As for the other stuff that was in the charts, I did my best to avoid it. I remember getting dragged to some awful nightclubs in my last year of high school and wondering how on earth my friends could dance to the ghastly dance/techno that was being played. I'd stumble upon a TV show in which members of a boyband would be gyrating on a stage, miming to a song, no instruments to be seen. That was not what I called music.

Ask me if I “Love the '90s” and I will tell you I do, but not those '90s.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.


The Show
[Setlist]

So I knew I was going to hate the rest of the ‘artists’ (quotation marks are necessary) at the Oslo festival, but I had seriously underestimated just how much.
It was horrendous. Appalling. Atrocious. Awful. Dire. Dreadful. Horrible. Horrid. Horrifying. Ghastly. Even the Thesaurus is running out of words. Basically, it sucked.

And what can be worse than being stuck watching a series of ‘acts’ whose performances make you want to swallow broken glass? It’s doing so in a massive arena full of the worst type of drunk, aggressive, obnoxious people. Without going into specifics, let me tell you, I spent the duration of the show trying to stop some drunk, obnoxious women behind us from attacking one of my friends.

As the ‘party’ went on, some of us started to tweet Hanson, begging them to come on stage before we lost the will to live. Luckily, approximately three quarters into the ordeal, techs began to bring instruments on stage. Actual instruments! Up until that point, there had been no sign of a musical instrument anywhere, which really tells you something about the calibre of talent performing. When I saw the gear being wheeled out on stage, I felt a wave of admiration for ‘our band’ - the only band who had the right to be called so. And I was proud of being there for Hanson, and not for some scantily clad, gyrating douchebag.

Finally our band came on stage, Isaac more badass than ever in his suit and shades. Before playing a single note, Hanson had already put all the other acts to shame.



We all knew the setlist would be very short and mostly made up of MON and TTA-era songs. But I was surprised to hear “Waiting for This” as the opening track, as I hadn’t expected anything from Shout it Out for this show. “In the City” was another very welcome addition and a less predictable choice from Hanson’s second album.




Until Oslo, I’d never seen Hanson play in such a large venue before; the only time I’d seen them perform to a larger-than-usual crowd was at the Hop Jam last year (2017). But the Telenor Arena is huge, and although I will always prefer small venues, it’s pretty impressive to see the band play on a massive stage, to a huge crowd and with good lighting. Undeterred by the largely inebriated and chemically altered crowd, Hanson played like they meant it: as if they were playing a real Hanson show, to a crowd of devoted Hanson fans. The guys took no shortcuts, and when the chorus of “If Only” came on, they jumped up and down, knowing that at least some of the audience, mostly on the front row, would know the drill. And from what I could see, all the Hanson fans at the front gave back as much as they could, myself included: that was not the time to feel jaded about the “Where’s the Love” finger dance.



After six songs, it was all over, and the moment the guys disappeared backstage, my friends and I sprang into action with a renewed sense of purpose: to get the hell out of there.

As I emerged into the freezing Oslo night, two distinct thoughts popped into my mind: one, that ‘my’ band had totally slayed it on stage. And two, that I’d never go to a We Love the '90s 'party' ever again.

We left Norway the following day. I was relieved to know that I wouldn’t have to endure another festival of horrors, but a little sad that my Scandi-themed Hanson adventure was over, and that I wouldn’t get to see Bergen. I hope that one day I’ll go back to Norway, take a cruise along the fjords and eat the equivalent of my own body weight in Norwegian bread and pastries. And hopefully Hanson will play there again soon: if the opportunity came up, it would be great to have a repeat of Ålesund, sharing the music with some of the friendliest, most chill people in the fan base. Until then, ha det bra, Norge.

Norwegian bakeries = heaven

A bar with a view in Oslo

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

It's Not You, It's Me: am I heading for a Hanson breakup?

A Preamble

This is a blog post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, but which I have resisted until now. I already have a reputation for being outspoken and I know that some fans consider that a Crime Against Hanson. In some circles, simply being critical of the band will brand you as a ‘negative’ person. But being a fan of a band is not a paid gig, and I have no editor to answer to, or corporation to please. I’m only a fan, without any sort of special status in exchange of which I could reasonably be expected to toe the 3CG party line.

My 7-Year Musical Ride So Far


6 years, soon to be 7

I joined the fanclub in April 2012, completely unaware that 2012 was going to pan out as a very difficult year for the band, with the notorious ‘near-split’ happening, with an album that was proving difficult to finish and a whole load of tumbleweed standing in for content on the website. Not knowing, however, any better, I threw myself into the fan experience with the recklessness and enthusiasm of an absolute beginner. Then, in 2013 Sound of Light EP landed, closely followed by an album - the long awaited ‘Anthem’. That winter, Hanson toured in Europe. I saw six shows, got a M&G and met the guys a few times. I was in music (and fan) heaven. 2014 was relatively busy too, with the launch of a new website (still in BETA in 2018); several livestreams followed. In January 2015 I went to my first BTTI and despite a far from perfect resort and inclement weather, I thought the experience was absolutely magical.

After the walk in Glasgow, 2013. It was my first ever Hanson show.
I will soon be renewing my membership for the 7th time but a lot has changed in the way I feel about Hanson as a band: a lot of the magic has gone, and so far, no amount of self-delusion on my part has managed to bring it back. So, what’s changed? Is it me, or is it Hanson? If I were to take inventory of my seven years as a fan, what issues would crop up? If I were to break up with Hanson, what reasons would I give them? So, come and join me on the therapist’s couch: we’re going for couples counselling.

Talking it through together

Gripe #1: The Music - or Lack Thereof

I love ‘my’ bands to make music. This might sound old-fashioned, but I like new music at regular intervals. I also like to feel that the song I’m listening to actually means something to the artist who made it. Music is one of those ephemeral art forms that allow little margin for cheating, and if there’s no real inspiration behind it, it usually shows. Which brings me to the yearly Members EPs.

Yes, Hanson release some music every year in the form of Members-only EPs. Without a doubt, some of the band's best songs are hidden gems to be found in those EPs. But for every “Grace Unknown” there are several ‘experimental’ songs, sadly forgettable filler tracks with predictable lyrics and little originality. The problem with Members EP is that they are usually written and recorded in the space of a week. Hanson say that they choose to work to such a narrow time frame in order to challenge themselves; but it’s hard not to be cynical and think that, actually, setting aside a single week means getting the task over and done with as quickly as possible. Which, inevitably, raises the question: do actually Hanson still enjoy writing together?

Whatever the answer, the fact remains that a week’s work is unlikely to produce a masterpiece; that EP is not going to be some kind of abridged "Sgt Pepper", or "Pet Sounds", or "The Joshua Tree". Good work takes time, and I find it worrying that Hanson seem to want to spend as little as possible doing the one thing they have committed to doing every year: writing those five songs.

As a result, EPs are often hit and miss, with potentially good songs that could however have done with some polishing or which scream for better production. Lately, a lot of the members songs have a certain derivative quality, eliciting a lot of ‘this sounds like’... ‘that’s an 80s song’... ‘that’s a 60s song’. Those songs can be undeniably fun and catchy, but are hardly the kind of music that will stand the test of time. Take, for instance, “I Don’t Want To Go Home", from the "In Color" EP. It's a great Hanson event anthem, but unashamedly manipulative: it’s about us, it flatters us, it’s self-reflective. But is it a song with universal appeal? Would it speak to the heart of a non-fan in the same way as “These Walls” or “World’s on Fire” spoke to me in 2012, when all I knew about Hanson was contained in a few gigabytes of MP3s that a friend had put on a DVD for me?

The other problem with Members EP music is that those songs are hardly ever get played outside of fanclub events - almost as if Hanson themselves know that that's not good enough material to ‘cross over’ to the non-hardcore crowd. On some of the rare occasions that those songs are played - at BTTI or at the odd pre-show MOE, Hanson appear not to have even rehearsed them, or bothered to learn the lyrics. And when the artists themselves don’t treat their own work with respect, it’s hard not to feel that maybe that work is not the real thing, but only a stocking filler to keep fans happy until the main present arrives - an album. Only, there hasn’t been an album since 2013. That’s right - it’s been five years since Anthem. Where’s the band's burning desire to make new music, to connect with people all over the world?
Anthem: Hanson's last proper studio album

Through the nostalgia-driven Middle of Everywhere CD and tour, Hanson managed to recapture the attention of a lot of old fans from 1997 who had lost interest in the band. So why not take advantage of the increased numbers and hit a bigger, more eager fan base with a new album? Wouldn’t that be the logical thing to do? Instead, Hanson, still hot on the heels of the MOE tour, release a Christmas album, a novelty record of limited seasonal appeal, largely marketed to the scores of the recently acquired fans. For the true music fan, a Christmas album just doesn’t cut it.

And this is why I think that maybe the problem lies with me: maybe Hanson are no longer a band for the music geek. Maybe they never were, and I was just lucky to stumble across them at a time when writing new material was still a priority for them. Maybe I am just the wrong type of fan for the band - I care about songs, lyrics, I search for meaning. I nerd out with friends over a song's smallest detail. Yes, I’m hard to please - but that’s because I have been obsessively listening to music since I was about ten years old, back when all you had was an LP and its sleeve notes, or maybe, if you were really lucky, a few magazine cuttings with a months-old interview to your favourite band. There was no internet, there was no Google, and there were no selfies to post on Instagram. Believe it or not, back then it was all about the music.

It's music I want. Maybe that's where I'm going wrong.

“It’s not you, it’s me” quotient: 10/10


Gripe #2 :The Good Ol’ Days Have Long Gone

Remember when the Hanson Day concert would be streamed live for everybody back home to enjoy? No? You must be a new member. Believe it or not, that kind of thing happened regularly, and I used to set my alarm clock to 1 or 2 AM, get up and watch the stream in the company of friends who, from all over the world, would also be sitting bleary eyed in front of their screen, snacks and drinks in hand.

Remember the old site?

We used to discuss the streams live on Twitter, joking, over-analysing haircuts and facial expressions. Usually, as part of a livestream, there would be a Q&A and a live performance; it all had a kind of homemade, amateur feel, but we loved it. It was what kept us renewing our membership, year after year; it was something we actively looked forward to.

Until it all disappeared.


The old, homemade Livestreams
Now, any mention of Livestreams has been removed from the Membership description on HNET, and the only streams we have seen in recent years are pre-recorded, ‘making of’ videos. What kind of content do we get these days? The odd blog post, a few Instagram stories; meanwhile, the band’s official Twitter account appears to have been farmed out to a social media agency, who are clearly under the misguided impression that Hanson’s Twitter following consists mostly of 12-year olds. How else can you explain that, only recently, valuable band time was taken up by creating an original set of GIFs? What band films original footage with the sole purpose of creating a set reaction gifs? And more to the point, surely the whole point of reaction GIFs is that they’re supposed to be spontaneous, not staged? Someone sack the agency, please: my friend's dog Baxter could surely do a better job.




I’ll be honest: I was used to my fanclub membership offering a lot more, and yes, I miss it. Maybe I’m a spoilt brat, maybe I am resisting change. Maybe I should accept that bands obey to the rule of diminishing returns, in the same way as when you go and buy groceries, you notice that the same product you used to buy now contains less of the product, but for the same price, or higher. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations and maybe it's perfectly reasonable to put one less bagel in the pack, and charge me the same money.

“It’s not you, it’s me” quotient: 6/10


Gripe #3: Everything Else

I’ve been a music fan since I can remember and before getting into Hanson, I went to concerts, listened to the records at home, bought music magazines, and occasionally, in later years, chatted with fans on bands' forums. I ‘met’ one or two of my favourite artists once or twice and was thrilled when I got their autographs. These days, with albums barely selling and streaming venues paying paltry amounts, Hanson and many other bands and artists offering ‘fan experiences’. Cue a bigger and bigger Hanson Day and BTTI. Also cue the increasingly intrusive element of selfie-hunting taking over said events.

Don’t get me wrong - I love BTTI (well, this one just gone, 2018, not so much). I went to Hanson Day twice and loved Tulsa, the events and the shows. But that kind of stuff should be an extra, a way for the artists to replenish their coffers so that they can keep doing what they really want do: make music.

The Rock Boat is one of many 'fan experience' events. Just don't bring up Hanson with them.

Lately, however, the whole ‘fan experience’ thing seems to be the priority for Hanson; the end, not the means. And I can’t help feeling that the band are pandering to those fans who are only in it for the ‘experience’ - the selfies, the ability to boast on social media about ‘hanging out’ with their teenage heartthrob Taylor Hanson. The music is just an after thought. And those of us who question it, who dare to ask when a new album will come, are told to stop complaining, because “Hanson do so much for us”. Well, yes, to be fair, Hanson do a lot for them, agreeing to selfie after selfie, putting on more events at Hanson Day that have nothing to do with music but which offer an opportunity for fans to get close to the guys. Personally, I’d give all of these admittedly fun events up, if that meant I saw an effort on Hanson’s part to hunker down in their bunker and write some new music.

“It’s not you, it’s me” quotient: 10/10

So What Happens Now?

One of the reasons why it’s so difficult for disillusioned members to leave a religious cult, is that leaving your beliefs behind is like admitting that you’ve been wrong; that you’ve been duped by a charismatic leader for whom you would have jumped off the nearest cliff. Yes, I know Hanson are not a religious cult but there are staggering similarities between fan behaviour and cult-thinking.

When Eddie Tried to Quit Mayerism, It Didn't Go So Well 

Take the lack of objectivity among our fan base: it’s as if fans are sticking their fingers in their ears and going LALALA, not wanting to hear anything negative. Because, of course, if you see the old man behind the curtain, and realise that he’s not a wizard, you’ll be sad and disappointed. And like with a cult,  leaving the fanbase will often mean leaving your support system behind; your friends; your social circle. Your day-to-day chats by the virtual watercooler, discussing the band, the fans, planning outfits for the next event, figuring out how much weight you need to lose and what cosmetic treatment you need to invest in for the next picture with the band.

But whatever a fan/cult member’s inner fears may be, shutting down debate because you’re unable to accept that there might be a problem is only going to push discussions underground - in private chats, secret groups and those remaining few social networks that still allow a degree of anonymity. Shutting people down and tell them to ‘stop complaining’ and - worse - to ‘be grateful’ is a surefire way to turn off those fans who still love the band but refuse to turn into unquestioning fanbots who live under the misplaced belief that they should show gratitude to three rockstars for allowing them to keep doing what is, without a question, the coolest job in the world - and not the other way around.



As for me? Like Edith Piaf sang, je ne regrette rien. I fell in love with this band because their music spoke to me, moved me, uplifted me. Back then in 2012 I had no way of knowing that, through Hanson, my life would change in more ways that I could ever imagine. I will never walk away from music that has meant so much to me, but how much longer can I stick around for, chasing after a mirage that keeps dissolving as I get closer?

However - and some of you will be surprised to learn this - I am deep down an eternal optimist. I want to believe that Hanson can still be ‘that special band’ for me; that they can still make a kickass album that I’ll play to death for months on end. I want to believe they still care about making music more than just being a ‘brand’ that flogs us merch in seasonal ‘Collections' like a chain store in a shopping mall.

I'm not ready to turn my back on this band - yet. But I know I’m not alone in thinking that unless Hanson show us that new music is still a priority for them, there will come a time when I’ll completely lose interest. And by then it will be easier to just say “Hanson, it’s not you, it’s me”. Maybe we can still work it out.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Catching the Hanson Bug on Pictures Day

PICTURES DAY

Traditionally, the fourth and final day of BTTI is Pictures Day, i.e. when you get the unique opportunity to have a professional picture taken with all three brothers, and if you’re lucky and determined enough, have a 30 seconds chat with them. It’s not really a Meet & Greet but with over 400 fans attending, it’s a good as it gets.

Let’s be honest: most of us plan maniacally for Pictures Day. I doubt that the majority of fans are delusional enough to be trying to impress the guys; the reason for all the preparation is that, as we all know, once the photos are up on the HNET gallery, everybody in the fan base will be pouring over them for days and weeks. And you don’t really want to be the Worst Dressed Fan of BTTI 2018, do you? And so, every year, we prepare, carefully choosing The Right Outfit, accessories, shoes, hair and even shapewear (the latter, by the way, is torture in the tropical heat).

A constant on Pictures Day is the weather. According to BTTI law, Pictures Day will inevitably be the hottest, sunniest, most infernally humid day of the four-day vacation. This year was no different, and in marked contrast to the monsoon-like weather that we’d had since landing in Jamaica several days prior, we woke up to a very hot Pictures Day morning, with the sun threatening to poke its face through the rapidly thinning clouds. As I stepped out on the porch, I instantly began to sweat. Yes, it was Pictures Day alright.

I’d had my Picture outfit planned for months. In a stroke of luck, I’d found a flamingos print dress online early in the year, and had the sense to buy it before it sold out (flamingos are the new unicorns). So once all the make-up was applied and a futile attempt to de-frizz my hair was complete, I joined my friends by the side of the pool, close to the gazebo-like island where the photos would be taken and where a long queue of fans had already formed.

Hanson weren’t even there yet, and none of us felt like standing in line for hours, so I sat at the Level bar with Howra, who was wearing a flower print dress. The sun was breaking through the clouds and we wanted to sit in the shade with our bottles of water in an effort to sweat as little as possible through our picture outfits.

Within minutes, however, a very large beetle-like insect began to fly around us. We waved it away, but within seconds, it was back, circling around us even more insistently. 
“It’s as big as a helicopter” I yelled, jumping out of my seat. 
Evicted from our nice, shaded spot, we moved to a pair of loungers by the poolside. But no sooner had we found a new spot, than the fiendish creature was after us again, its drone-like buzz getting closer, louder and more menacing. With the bug now inches away from our faces, Howra and I sprang up from our seats again and sprinted away in opposite directions, screaming like characters in Scooby-Doo, as the fans in line watched us bemused.

An accurate representation of Howra and I running from the bug

This went on for several minutes. during which we’d occasionally pause for breath, hoping that the monstrous thing would desist, only for the chase to start all over again, and once again, our demented dance would resume, amidst our increasingly shrill cries. Then, just as the bug had landed on a sun lounger, a waitress from the bar walked towards us, carrying a large beach towel. Amidst fits of laughter, with one deft strike she whacked the insect, sending it tumbling several feet away on the paved floor.

We looked at her in awe.
“That’s what they do,” the waitress said, still laughing. “They pick on someone and won’t leave them alone. They don’t sting but they can dig their claws on your skin. He must have been attracted by your clothes.” she added, eyeing our dresses. Of course - I thought. Howra’s dress had a flower pattern, and the beetle must have mistaken my pink flamingos for some flowers: it thought we were food. I did feel sorry for the poor creature’s premature end, but on the other hand, I really didn’t fancy the idea of those claws on my skin - not before my $3,000 picture with Hanson.

The Bug

Picture time came and went, in the usual ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ style. When I let Taylor know that he’d played two songs out of three from my wishlist, he asked me what the third one was.
“Carry You There”, I said.
“Oh,” Taylor said, nonchalantly. “That was actually on my solo setlist.”
"Oh." I was not impressed to hear that that pesky Hanson brother had skipped one of my favourite songs. “I should throw you in the pool, then.” I said. But Taylor was already turning toward the camera, perma-grin firmly place, and I don’t think he heard me. 
That was probably for the best.

Is Taylor laughing at my feet?
 ISAAC SOLO SET

A confession: until now, I was under the mistaken impression that Isaac’s set this year was mostly made up of mushy ballads that all merged into one. But looking back at the setlist, it's clear that my memory betrays me: after a rare performance of ‘Every Day”, a very energetic rendition of “River” followed. Next was “Hand in Hand” - a song which I’m always glad to hear, although I think it sounds better with a full band. “Smile” brought back the usual mention of a previous BTTI when Isaac got “Smile” and “Sometimes” mixed up, and “Leave the Light On” is always a crowd pleaser - one of those good, solid Isaac leads that you can sing along to. There was a made-up on-the-spot song about Jamaica, followed by a new song, “Missing, Needing, Wanting You”. The latter falls into the ‘sappy ballad’ category, just like the next track, “A Life Without You”,  a song that Isaac wrote at 14. It was first dusted off for BTTI 2016, and has become a feature of his solo lists ever since - one of the two songs he plays on the piano (the other being “More Than Anything” - which he’d played as a solo at the Members’ show).



The set ended with “Lonely Again” - something I’d been hoping to hear for a long time, and one of those typical Hanson songs with sombre lyrics disguised within an upbeat tempo and an infectious chorus. Isaac himself said something along the lines of “you can never have too many “sha na nas” in a song” - and who can disagree with that? It was an apt closing to a perfectly good if somewhat predictable set; Isaac turned up on time, wasn’t too drunk and didn’t let fans hijack the set with their requests. But it wasn’t the heartfelt performance he gave last year, and it wasn’t the upbeat, crowd winning solo set of 2015 - my favourite Isaac solo set out four BTTIs I’ve been to date. But that’s okay - every year a different brother surprises me through his solo set; 2015 was Isaac, 2016 was Zac and 2017 was a close call between all three. This year, the winner was Taylor (and not because of his impromptu swim).
Isaac Solo Setlist

Like many fans, I hadn’t been overly impressed to hear that “Singles” had been voted as one of the three BTTI themes, although I still favoured that over a Christmas set. Hanson have such an extensive discography that it seems a bit of a shame to use up a whole night of BTTI for singles, especially considering that there haven’t been many of those in the last few years. 

Despite my initial reservations, I enjoyed the Singles show, not least thanks to Hanson’s unusually tight performance - as glitch-free a concert as I’d ever witnessed at BTTI, where unpredictability rules. The choice of setlist helped, as in addition to the inevitable appearance of “Where’s the Love” and “Get the Girl Back”, we got treated to more obscure should-have-been-singles and B-sides releases, such as “Every Word I Say” and “Deeper” (as everybody probably knows by now, the latter was the song through which I discovered Hanson). 

It was fun to hear Hanson’s only recent single, 2017’s “I Was Born” get the BTTI improv treatment and become “The Ballad of the Baby Turtles” when, for the second consecutive night, the little reptiles decided to hatch on the beach; “don’t underestimate the sting of a baby turtle”, sang Taylor, instantly creating a new Fanson Fad for anything turtle-themed.

The Singles Show

One notable change from previous BTTIs was the final performance of ‘Back to The Island”. It had become tradition for the musical guests to join Hanson on stage for a group rendition of the song, but this year, by Day 4 both Stephen Kellogg and Chris Carrabba had left. Did Hanson, who are known to be extremely parsimonious, try to cut costs by only paying for the guests to stay until the night they were due to play? That would never happen, right?

Breaking from the singles theme, the set ended with two covers - The Darkness “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”, which is always a hit with the Zac girls, and a repeat of AC/DC’s “(You Shook Me) All Night Long” - which they had already played on the first show. Personally, as I’m not a fan of either song, and considering that one had already been played, I would have chosen something else to choose the final show, but as usual, I’m nit-picking. The final show certainly didn’t disappoint.

The Singles Show Setlist

Afterwards, once Hanson had left the stage and the lights had gone out, I once again had a strange feeling, very different from the usual Post Concert Depression; a feeling that, although BTTI was now over, it hadn’t even happened at all. As Howra kept saying, BTTI 2018 was like a storyline from LOST. We were on the island, but it wasn’t really the island as we knew it: it was all a little bit weird.

It's the island, man!

Anyway, there was still one event to go through…

TAYLOR’S DANCE PARTY

There’s really not much I can say about the ‘dance party’ other than I barely paid attention to it. This year, the party took place on the stage in the middle of the square, where the resort’s entertainment team did their daily performances. In that respect, the location was an upgrade from previous years, when it was held in the buffet: more street party, less budget cruise ship. At one point, some of the male dancers from the entertainment team got on stage, where they provocatively gyrated for a few minutes before Taylor saw sense and sent them packing.

A Jamaican Street Party
But really, it was more of the same - Taylor on stage, fans surrounding the stage gawping at Taylor, fans handing Taylor shots which he always tries to refuse and then inevitably ends up accepting: and who can blame him? Surrounded by fans, he needs all the help he can get.

Unlike last year, Zac and Isaac were nowhere to be seen - I can only guess that they felt they’d already paid their dues by turning up on the first night. And again unlike last year, this time I wasn’t anywhere near inebriated enough to enjoy Taylor’s choice of music.



So I chatted with friends, took photos with people, and just milled around. Towards the end, we went to watch the action from the far side of the barrier. Soon, it was clear that Taylor was about to leave, triggering the Hanson Gravitational Pull Phenomenon: our previously empty spot suddenly filled with fans, many of whom were sipping a drink and acting casual, as if just passing by. If you’re into people-watching, that’s quite an amusing dynamic to observe.

Once Taylor had been ushered away, the assembled crowd of fans slowly dispersed; the bar closed; the resort went back to its weird vibe of a Caribbean Disneyland crossed with one of those American ghost towns you see in old Westerns. Through hidden speakers, crickets chirped and green tree frogs croaked - stubbornly keeping up that tropical rainforest illusion for one more night.

And that was it - BTTI 2018 was over. Nothing had been missed out - we’d had all of our shows, our activities and our pictures. In one way or another, Hanson and Island Gigs had managed to deliver everything they’d promised, and they’d done a great job considering the circumstances.
The weather couldn’t be helped, but there were a few issues that maybe could have been avoided, and which certainly contributed to making this BTTI a little less amazing than its predecessors. And out of the four BTTIs I’ve attended so far, 2018 is going straight to the bottom of the list for me.

Did I still have fun? Of course: when you are with the right people, you can always make the most of any situation. The food was good, the music was great, and we were away from the daily grind of our real lives at home. And now, the memory of wading through the quagmire or drinking shots of Grand Marnier to keep warm at the swim-up bar will keep us going for another 12 months, until we are ready to do it all over again. 

So I guess I’ll see you next year, and let’s hope it’s in Jamaica.

The Quagmire
On the Sky Explorer at Mystic Mountain (L-R: Howra, me, Ingela and Nilene)
Mango Daiquiris with Ingela and Kelly

My Favourite BTTI 2018 Moments:

To hear “World’s on Fire” and “These Walls” with Kelly; pool volleyball; mango daiquiris; our trip to Mystic Mountain; the dessert counter.

My Least Favourite BTTI 2018 Moments:

The Monsoon; the concerts in the greenhouse; the selfie hunters at Tie Dye; some of the resort staff; putting on several pounds with every visit to the aforementioned dessert counter.

Hopes and Dreams for BTTI 2019

Going back to the Jewel; a selfies ban during organised activities; to hear “Carry You There”; Butch Walker on Guests Night.

L-R: Howra, Kasey, me, Ingela and Kelly. Oh, and Hanson in the background.

Back to the Island is an annual event for Hanson.net fanclub members organised by Hanson and Island Gigs. Details of the 2018 event just gone can be found here.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Day 3: A Hanson Tsunami


We're All Gonna Dye 

I can’t even remember what we did the morning of our officially-third-but-effectively-only-second day: most likely, a combination of eating, drinking, and maybe a brave dip in the pool. The first item on the day’s agenda was the dreaded Tie Dye and as my love for crafts has been well-documented in a previous post, what could possibly go wrong?

In my experience of previous BTTIs, the second session of any of the craft-type activities is usually the least disorganised, so this time we had orchestrated to register for the red pass, in the hope of a hiccup-free second session. The schedule change, however, meant that both sessions would to be running back-to-back. When we heard that our session would start thirty minutes later, and saw Hanson going in the opposite direction on board of a golf cart, I had the nagging feeling that double bluffing fate would not work in our favour. 



This year, at least, was the first time I could actually follow the tie-dye demonstration, which took place on a raised platform. We were at the table closest to the front, and when the demo was over, Isaac, who had just dyed a shirt in the colours of the Jamaican flag, came over to our table. Jackpot, I thought. 

They All Wanna Dye

Kelly and I complimented the Old Man for the show the night before, and then, in an idiotic tone I didn’t even recognise, I proceeded to tell him how I liked his work best and how I wanted to use the same colours, except, we didn’t have any green. The fact is, I liked the shirt he'd just dyed because of the Jamaican flag theme, but who’s going to believe that? By then, however, Isaac had already legged it all the way back to the stage to fetch me some green - probably grateful for the chance to get away from this moron. By the time he’d come back with a bottle of dye, I’d managed to find some - it was right in front of me, on the table.* 
(*I’m sorry but it looked blue).

“Ooops, sorry, we already had some, after all.” I said. I’d like to say that Isaac rolled his eyes but he was wearing shades. Let’s face it though: he probably did. He stuck around for a few moments, during which all my friends and the others at the table appeared to be struck by a sudden and debilitating form of mutism. Unsurprisingly, Isaac soon turned on his heels and left.

And that was it as far as “Hanson interaction” went:  soon, they were all swarmed by selfie hunters, who this year cranked it up several notches on the annoying scale by leaving their tables to follow the guys around, making it impossible for them to mingle. When Taylor tried to make his way to the front, the Hanson Gravitational Pull Phenomenon happened. For the uninitiated, the HGPP is when fans realise that a Hanson brother is on the move, and so they begin to magically glide towards him, very nonchalantly - or so they think - pretending to be just casually passing by. Very quickly, the Hanson Brother in question is surrounded with no way out, and only a miracle, or at a push, Rebecca, can save him.

That’s exactly what happened during tie dye, and by the time Taylor had extracted himself from the crowd, he was all but sprinting towards the paved walkway, ‘I’m done’ written all over his face. (Genetics have served Taylor Hanson well: not only does he have a great voice and a pretty face, but he has also very long legs that can get him away from fans quicker than you can utter the word ‘selfie’).

As I watched Taylor drift away like Wilson in “Castaway”, something inside me snapped: there was something I wanted to say to him, and considering how things had gone so far, who knows if I’d ever get another chance? I strode purposefully toward him, and after waiting for him to take yet another selfie with someone, I pounced.

Taylor!

“I’m not going to ask you for a photo,” I blurted. A flicker of surprise flitted on Taylor’s face, and I forged ahead.

“I just wanted to thank you for playing “World’s on Fire” last night. It meant a lot to me and my friend.” I carried on, knowing that Kelly was standing just a couple of feet away. As the expression on his face changed from auto-Hanson-selfie mode to something more genuine, Taylor explained the reason why that particular song doesn’t get played much: in a nutshell, and I paraphrase here, “World’s on Fire”  belongs to a certain period, which they have now moved on from. In turn, I politely objected and told him that fans love that song and that they should play it more often. Finally, I thanked him again and then let him gallop away from the circle of fans that was rapidly closing in around us. Mission accomplished.

I’ve had a handful of opportunities to interact with the band in my six years as a fan - nowhere near as many as some of the long-standing, super-duper hardcore fans I know. But I can say with absolute certainty that whenever I’ve spoken to one of the guys about their music, they have always reacted with a mixture of gratitude and surprise, as if they’re not quite the jaded musicians that you’d expect them to be after 20+ years in the business. I don’t think it’s an act: why else would you want to be an artist if not to connect with people over your music? And to me as a fan, that minute-long connection is worth a thousand photographs.

Talking to Taylor about my favourite Hanson song

Taylor Solo Set

Fast-forward a few hours, which I’m guessing were spent eating more bite-sized desserts at the buffet, and we were finally on the beach for Taylor’s solo set.

For anyone who was there at BTTI 2018, Taylor’s solo set will forever be etched into their memory as that time when Taylor took his socks and overshirt off and invited fans to join him for a dip in the ocean. A half-undressed Hanson brother with a deathwish and four hundred fans at different stages of inebriation: again, what could possibly go wrong? Rather predictably, a stampede ensued, and one cannot help but wonder if the tsunami warning that we got a couple of days later was the impact on the tectonic plates from a couple of hundred Hanson fans suddenly running into the water. 



It goes without saying that I did not run into the water, and for a number of valid reasons. Firstly, I didn’t want to lose my spot; secondly, I wasn’t dressed for it and didn’t fancy spending the rest of the show cold and wet. Last but not least, that stretch of beach is very rocky and a fan had already injured herself a couple of days before by taking a dip without water shoes. As I had survived the injury-inducing yoga class, I didn’t want to tempt fate again, not even to catch a glimpse of Taylor Hanson emerging from the water, weighted down by waterlogged clothes, like an all-American Neptune on a wet t-shirt contest.  

Taylor Neptune

Taylor’s aquatic antics aside, my one true favourite moment in the whole set was a rare performance of “These Walls”. The stripped down, acoustic version that is featured in the “Stand Up, Stand Up” EP was one of the first Hanson songs I ever fell in love with - together with “World’s on Fire” and “Carry You There”. Finally, some six years later, I was seeing it performed right in front of me. Other highlights of the set were “Believe”, “Be My Own” and the criminally neglected Anthem track “Cut Right Through Me” - which, however, would have sounded better with the rest of the band.

 

Taylor has a tendency to cut his solo sets shorts, and this year, due to his impromptu swim, was no exception. As I would would later find out, “Carry You There” had also been on his setlist, which means that I’d come incredibly close to completing my Holy Trinity of Hanson Songs I Wanted to Hear. On the other hand, I now have a good excuse for wanting to go back to the Island again next year.

Taylor Solo Setlist


Guest Artist Night - Stephen Kellogg

One of the problems with changes of schedule at BTTI is that it often leads to guests and Hanson having to play on the same night; out of four BTTIs I’ve been to, this has now happened three times, making it the rule rather than the exception. Guests and Hanson on the same night means that not only fans will camp out for Hanson, so no first 3-4 rows for the guests’ own fans, but also, that there’s no night off to chill out and enjoy some music without the pressure of having to be there at a certain time for the main show. 

Alas, BTTI 2018 was going to be one of those years again, with Stephen Kellogg playing his set just before Hanson. 

I’ve recently become a fan of ‘SK’ - as fans affectionately refer to him - and after seeing him twice in the UK last October, I was excited to see him play on a beach and in the company of the person who had got me into this music - Kelly. The set was really good fun, and although some of the songs he played might not have the immediacy that suited an unfamiliar audience, SK got a really warm response from the crowd. 

Afterwards, we went over to chat to him for a few minutes, and I asked him to sign a live CD that Kelly had given me as a belated Christmas gift. When I mentioned that I’d taken my husband to his Manchester gig, SK nodded. ‘Oh, your husband was that really cool guy, right?’. Suffice to say, he won even more fan points with me that night (and my husband will never admit to it but he’s secretly thrilled).


Chatting to SK was a stark reminder of how fan/band interaction can be when fans act like normal people in the presence of normal people. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will ever happen with Hanson fans, and ultimately, we, the fans, are the ones who lose out.

My signed Stephen Kellogg CD
The Main Show - Members night

The Members Only songs concert is really one of my main reasons for going to BTTI, as Hanson tend to stick to familiar album releases when they play normal shows - especially in Europe.

This year’s set was a good mix of new and old, incorporating tracks from their most recent EPs - “Somebody That Wants to Love You”, “Ghostwriter”, “No Rest for the Weary”, regular BTTI favourites like “Best of Times” and “White Collar Crime”, with the inclusion some rare treats such as “What’s Your Name” (an Isaac lead I had not yet heard live) and “Coming Back for More”, during which SK, who had co-written the song, joined Hanson on stage for an unforgettable sing-along.



A regular feature of BTTI sets is the made-up-on-the-spot song, and this year we got treated to “I’m Gonna Play The Chords Wrong” which preceded “On the Road”; those moments are always a lot of fun and show Hanson as their most comfortable and relaxed - a side they are clearly only happy to show to a small audience of people who, let’s face it, are never going to boo them offstage.




The show ended with a pretty epic rendition of “I Don’t Want To Go Home” from the “In Color” EP. We all knew that that song was going to become a new BTTI anthem, although maybe it would have been more fitting on the final night. As I sang along with Zac - “all my friends are here, I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna go home”, it thought of how strange this BTTI 2018 felt - how everything was just a little out of sync.

Members Show Setlist

Family Feud

Just like Cards Against Humanity the day before, Family Feud took place in the buffet; but this time we’d got there earlier and bagged a relatively decent spot by the side of the stage. I was tired and a little bored, and once the game started, I quickly got distracted by checking my social media. I knew my number wouldn’t get called, so there was no need to really pay attention. Or so I thought.

Because at one point I became vaguely aware of Isaac’s calling numbers in reverse order - 136, 135, 134…. something registered in my mind that the next number would be mine...133 … oh no. Oh no no no. No. My number? That’s not how it usually works. I willed myself to get up and walked toward the stage feeling like someone who is having an out-of-body experience on their way to the gallows. Would I make a total fool of myself in front of my favourite Hanson brother?

I took a seat at the front, and swept my gaze around the room while I waited for the other players to make their way to the stage. To my left was my table, with Howra, Kelly and Ingela grinning at me, phones raised to capture the moment. Somewhere in the centre, semi-disguised behind a pillar was Kasey, sticking a thumb up in encouragement. And right at the back was Suze, waving maniacally like an over excited parent a her child's school play. I laughed, and soon the nerves were gone. 

Playing Family Feud with Isaac Hanson

(For posterity: the question was ‘what does a man do when he starts losing his hair’ and my answer was ‘he shaves his head’. I did not win any points but Isaac said he agreed with me, not with the game. Win).

And so, after a day packed with a lot of music and a hefty dose of fan madness, another day was over, despite the fact that BTTI had only really just got going.

Stay tuned for Part 4.