March 19, 2019

Melbourne: String Theory & The Zoo

Travel & String Theory
The journey to get myself from South Carolina to Melbourne was easily the longest continuous travel day of my life. I left my house at 3am EST on February 24th for a one hour flight, followed by a six hour flight, then a 12-hour layover, followed by a 17-hour red-eye flight that same night. I slept for a total of three or four hours (yay, sold out flight in economy), then landed in Melbourne around 10am on February 26th with the sudden task of living through another full day before sleep. I was fine for about an hour until we checked into the hotel and I was given access to a real bed for the first time in over 36 hours.

We forced ourselves out of the room and prayed that the ample sunshine would work a miracle and keep us awake. I’m not sure how we did it, but we managed to check out the beach and some local shops and ended our day watching penguins at the St. Kilda pier, all without ever passing out. I can't say much of the conversation was coherent, or that I even remember much past the penguins and a ridiculous hunt for gelato. In the end, suffering through the three-day day paid off, and it felt like we were synced up to Australian time by the next morning and for the rest of the trip.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous for the Melbourne String Theory show. I was finally getting to do something I’d been wanting to do for years, so I think there was a natural added amount of internal pressure to feel like I was fulfilling some epic bucket list moment. My excitement should have been off the charts, and yet I’d already allowed myself to experience String Theory eight times, and the exciting newness of the show had already worn off into a more happily familiar territory. How could this show possibly live up to the pedestal I’d been placing it on if I’d already let myself become desensitized to the shiny new parts of String Theory?

When “Reaching For The Sky” began, I felt nothing, and then I felt guilty for feeling nothing because "Reaching For The Sky" is a beautiful song plenty worthy of epic feelings. Then “Joyful Noise” started, and my feet began to tap of their own accord, and without realizing it, I let go of the arbitrary expectations I had in my head and began to lose myself in my happy place just like I always do. I’m fairly certain only Hanson could give me mild shin splints while confined to a seat. The sound was great and Hanson and the orchestra sounded as tight as ever. The upside to seeing an identical show over and over? There is a truth to the saying “practice makes perfect.” Everything sounded flawless.

The Zoo
Naturally, the two hottest days of the entire trip landed on the two days Hanson booked outdoor shows. The first zoo day was absolutely brutal, and I am so thankful that the Melbourne Zoo staff devised a ticketing system that allowed everyone to get numbers and leave. Even showing back up an hour and a half before doors felt excruciating as temperatures climbed to 102 degrees Fahrenheit/ 39 degrees Celsius in direct sunlight. I forced down bottle after bottle of water and stood with my printed ticket shading my face until we finally escaped to the shaded front area next to the stage. I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot during a Hanson show, including the time I got sick at an outdoor show in Florida. The big difference is this time I made sure I stayed hydrated. I’ve also never been so happy to be stuck standing outside in the rain as when we were blessed with a light shower before Hanson came on.

The setlist the first night was a pretty solid mix of singles and upbeat crowd favorites, and it felt like they were actually trying to kill us putting “Fired Up,” “In The City,” “Lost Without Each Other,” and “If Only” all back to back at the end after we were already half-dead from the heat. It was a lot of fun and a nice break for both the fans and I assume the band from their set String Theory shows. It also made for an incredibly satisfying shower afterwards.

The zoo shows were both sold out to a crowd that must have been in the several thousands spanning across the large field area each night. There were two big screens on either side of the stage to allow a better view for those further in the back, and the cameras panned across the audience while we waited, often zooming in on excited attendees and their cheeky kids with the sudden spotlight to dance around and show their enthusiasm on the big screen, much like at a baseball game. I fully enjoyed the people watching and seeing families point in excitement to the screen as a kid or two enjoyed their fifteen seconds of fame. And then there was that one kid on the second night. He was about three or four, blonde, adorable, and I watched to see what dance he would break out into like all the kids before him. My smile turned into a horrified laugh as he instead proceeded to turn and drop his pants, mooning a few thousand people at once. The camera quickly panned a few yards over...but he was not satisfied with his moment being cut short. Instead, he could be seen running across neighboring blankets to follow the gaze of the camera, and when it stopped, so did he, and he turned and mooned the crowd once again. His family now has a great story to embarrass him with for years to come, and I've got a memory that I'm pretty sure will always be unique to this show. Good luck, mom and dad. You've either got a natural star or a natural troublemaker on your hands.

The second show felt like some weird bonus BTTI show in a good way. In addition to being hot and outside and full of plenty of the same people, there were a few sound issues that led to some impromptu tuning songs and banter (something about Isaac's spirit animal being a wombat?). I think the true MVP of that show might be the stage tech, though, who not only crawled under the piano mid-song twice and disassembled the keyboard while Taylor was playing it, but he also came out to do an epic stomp on stage to stop what I can only assume must have been a giant bug aiming to carry Taylor away. Somehow I don't think that's in his job description, but he rose to the occasion in a moment of need.

I found myself loving "Wish That I Was There" just as much as I loved it in Jamaica, and I'm really not sure when or why I started loving it so much, but it's happened twice now so I'm fully embracing it as an unexpected new favorite. It's acoustic Hanson at their finest. I loved the second show even more than the first, and the crowd energy felt even better. I think being just a few degrees cooler made all the difference.

The City
In all, we spent five nights in Melbourne. That's longer than anywhere I've ever stayed while seeing Hanson with the exception of Tulsa and Jamaica. We visited St. Kilda, Luna Park, Brighton Beach, and the Central Business District in addition to both shows. I loved walking around the St. Kilda area and the overall laid back vibe of the beach town. Bonus points for all the adorable dogs we saw everywhere. I can't say if it's because we had more time to explore than any other city or if it's actually superior, but I'll go ahead and admit that Melbourne was probably my favorite city this trip. I loved the convenience of walking around St. Kilda and being a block from the venue, the beach, shopping, and penguins, and the beaches were a nice calm change from the overcrowded touristy beaches I avoid at home. Thanks for hosting us, Melbourne! You were a great first stop and did not disappoint.

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