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

2 comments:

  1. Nice meeting you before the meet and greet. I was pretty nervous as well! I was one of those seeing them for the first time, and i cant believe my luck of gjetting a meet and greet as well :) a perfect day!! Best wishes from #50 ;) Inger Monica

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment! I'm so glad you got to meet Hanson in Ålesund, I hope you enjoyed the experience! It was a great show and I really hope they'll go back to Norway again so that you guys can get to seem them again soon :)

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