October 15, 2020

This One's Optimistic: Live & Electric Revisited

The Announcement

It's an understatement to say that 2020 hasn't given us much to look forward to. You know things are rough when the highlight of your month is a save the date for some cryptic announcement from your favorite band. Even then, you know they're not going to release their new album yet, they haven't found a cure for Covid, and they're not about to announce a live tour, so while the prospect of news is exciting, it's not that exciting when the possibilities are pretty limited. I opted to watch Jeopardy with my mom that night vs. sitting glued to my computer awaiting this big announcement. I jokingly messaged my friend to call me if I needed to buy tickets to a show, knowing full well that would never happen.

I physically jumped out of my seat when my phone actually rang at the beginning of the Double Jeopardy round and I saw her name on the screen. I'll take plot twists and questionable life choices for $1000, Alex.

The Decision

My reaction was a mixture of pure adrenaline, excitement, and worry. On a scale of total home isolation to anti-masker, I'm at neither end of the spectrum, but I definitely fall towards the end of always wearing a mask in public and only going out for essential outings. Though the introvert in me doesn't mind much and has been relatively content to plow through a hundred books as a substitute, it didn't take long for me to deem my first opportunity to see Hanson live in eight months as an extremely essential outing.

I tried to have a very real talk with myself about expectations when I made the decision to go. I knew that going on this trip was going to expose me to more people in closer proximity than I would like, and I told myself that if I was going to get angry or scared every time I crossed paths with someone without a mask, then it was my responsibility to keep myself home, not my responsibility to try to police other people. To me, getting on a plane and doing this was accepting that I can't control anyone outside of myself. If nothing else, this year has been an exercise in learning how to navigate what I can control and what I can't and not holding onto anger over things that are not within my power to change. I made the decision to go and to do everything I could to minimize my own exposure and risk. Instead of approaching or starting a debate with someone not wearing a mask, I simply distanced myself from them. I wore an N99 mask on all of my flights, knew all of my table mates, and made sure we all agreed to wear our masks during the entire show. I roomed with only one friend and she was the only one to ever be in a room with me while I was maskless. Acknowledging that I was willingly taking a few calculated risks and doing my best to minimize them for myself went a long way towards having a good time without getting caught up in how I wanted other people to behave.

The Shows

Finally stepping inside Cain's was a weird mix of surreal and normal. I loved the amount of space we had and not having to worry that someone was going to push ahead and take my spot. With a limited capacity, assigned seats, and no opener, I felt just as spoiled as I did for String Theory. We plopped a bottle of sanitizer on top of our table and geared up for what was sure to be one of the strangest best Hanson shows in history. Emotionally speaking, at least.

The first show had a kind of pent-up energy that I didn’t quite know what to do with. I know how to navigate a sweaty, neighbor's-elbow-in-your-kidney, sticky-floored good time smashed against a barricade. I know how to hold on for dear life and how to dance in the negative six inches of space I can call mine in any crowd. Sitting front row center for the first ever socially distanced Hanson show that is being live streamed to thousands of people wasn't on my concert resume. I felt weirdly exposed and visible having our own table with an eight foot empty radius around us and being unsure if it was okay to stand when the majority of people weren't yet. I was relieved when Taylor finally made a reference to getting up and dancing at the end of “Dancing In The Wind” and more people began to stand. And so we did, all at our own tables, and it was a beautifully respectful experience. Jumping during “A Minute Without You” has never been so cathartic.

From the first time I heard the Live & Electric version of “Look At You” years ago, I remember thinking "Wow, Hanson seems to love performing this song. There's an extra something here in this live recording that definitely isn't on the MON version." I got that exact same vibe standing in the room with it in Cain’s, and it was a fun surprise to hear it flow seamlessly into a new cover of "It's Your Thing." The standout of that first show for me though was “Love Me.” I wasn’t around for the L&E era, but when I got on the Hanson train in 2007, “Love Me” was the first solo I ever heard Taylor perform live in Atlanta. I thought it was jaw-on-the-floor beautiful and felt honored to be in the same room with it at the time. Thirteen years later, he’s still slaying it and I’m still impressed. Honestly, all of the solos from all three were top-notch each show, and I could probably spend another three paragraphs swooning.  Let's just pretend I did: "Being Me," "Lullabelle," "The Walk." They did an amazing job.

It took me until the start of the second show when a friend pointed at my chest to realize I somehow legitimately packed and wore a shirt that said "Optimist" on it without ever connecting it to the show theme. I was standing there during "Optimistic," wearing an "Optimist" shirt with an extremely confused look on my face while she gestured at me. "Oblivious" would've been more fitting. Overall, the second show felt very much the same as the first with a few minor setlist changes and the added bonus of feeling a little bit more comfortable in that space. We stood sooner and were probably more relaxed being in the center of the room instead of up close near cameras, or at least that’s how I felt. I don’t know that there was any one standout moment at that show when the whole thing was good, though I’m not sure I’ll be quick to forget the first time I had my view blocked by a couple slow dancing to Weird.

The third show was the best. I don’t know if it took two shows to loosen everyone up or if we were all just hyperaware that things were coming to a close and it was our last chance to enjoy a concert for a while, but the energy was so much better at that one. The real standout performance to me across the entire event has to be "Every Word I Say" from the third show in particular. There was so much energy and I just felt really connected to it like I wasn't ready to give up that moment and that space in that room. That was the moment I felt the most present and alive and like I was right where I belonged.

By the end of the night after dancing and jumping to “If Only,” “Lost Without Each Other,” “Rock ’N’ Roll Razorblade,” and “In the City,” I was happily exhausted and wrecked in all the best ways that music can figuratively kill you. I came home with calves so sore I felt like I'd gotten to work Hop Jam 2020 after all and with a glimmer of hope that maybe I'd be lucky enough to do it all again in November.

The Outtakes

-The amazing moment when you somehow wind up with the only empty middle seat on the entire plane
-That awkward moment when your view is blocked by a couple making out during "Weird," and all you can do is turn to your friends and go "Isn't it strange?"
-Walking back to the hotel surrounded by unexpected fireworks that seemed magical at the time but went on to make the morning news by starting a small fire on a rooftop.
-Two words: Sushi. Burrito.
-Being in the middle of the dance floor, light shining on my face.
-Fording the river that was Main Street without losing any oxen. (TL;DR- burst water pipe. Serious applause to whoever got the water turned back on so the concert didn't have to be canceled!)

The Conclusion

It was great and weird and I don't regret it. I've run out of fingers to count the number of times I've been to Tulsa, hung out with giant groups of friends, and played tourist in a city that always seems to be building something new to check out. It was so strange to go there for under 48 hours, see three full-length shows, and actively avoid many of the people I've really missed seeing, Hanson included. If I saw you and didn't stop to talk or make plans to hang out, it's nothing personal and I really hope all that can change by next Hanson Day.

Instead of hitting the "usual" spots, I had expensive sushi delivered right to my room and joked through a virtual dance party where there was no pressure to actually dance. When we found ourselves with a few hours to kill between two shows, we traded Covid masks for skincare masks and watched a live stream, because what better way to wait in line for your next show than chugging chocolate milk in PJs in front of a giant flatscreen replay of the concert you just went to? It was weird and I don't want to call it my "new normal," but it was just the right mount of strange and we made the most of it.

I almost always end my posts with some sappy, positive, borderline-cliched statement that wraps the whole experience up with a cute bow for closure and paves the way for me to do it all again next time.

So how's this for sappy irony? After months of needing something positive to look forward to, when the lights cut out and Hanson finally came on stage, it was the most at home I've felt all year despite literally being at home all year.

The real conclusion here is I'm glad I went and I'm happy with the outcome. I had a great time and I feel oddly refreshed, sore muscles and all. Sometimes you just have to try the best you can and hope that it's good enough. In my experience, it was. Spoiler alert: this one's still optimistic.