October 3, 2011

Superfreaking Awesome (Chicago pt. 2, 9/28/11)

There's no easy way to write down a dream setlist, the Hanson fan's fantasy draft of songs. I could probably spend an hour with a pen and paper writing, crossing out, and rewriting without ever coming to a final conclusion. Instead, it might be easier to just sit back and point at this show. Maybe Asheville '08 is still my favorite, if only because I was a new enough fan at the time that I had never heard a lot of those songs--but this show ranks pretty darn close if not higher.

The Story

Okay, so I'm a bit biased because Underneath is my favorite album and this show was the night of the Underneath story. For anyone who doesn't already know, this means fan club members got to enter the venue early and listen to Hanson ramble on about everything from how the album was made to how much Zac loves Mexican food before the actual concert began. Beth and I waited in line all day and ended up in the front row right in front of Isaac, so we had a great spot to watch from.

The story was decently entertaining. The guys assumed correctly that most of us had already seen their documentary, Strong Enough to Break, so they tried to keep any duplicate information to a minimum. What we got instead was a lot of goofing off and a lot of Zac pretending he didn't know what was going on. Isaac ended up doing a Cookie Monster impression (I couldn't tell you why) that sounded a little off at the end, so he joked that it was really a Cookie Monster slash Yoda impression. He did it again and perfectly nailed what some split-personality version of Cookie Monster and Yoda might sound like. Just imagine in ten years when Isaac's had it with Hanson and you're taking your kid to see "Isaac and Friends: The Musical." There would be dancing puppets with gravelly accents. What? It could happen. I wonder if we'll all still fight over front row for that. There was some ninja talk and maybe something to do with Mexican ninjas, but that part is a bit foggy. If anyone remembers more and wants to leave it in the comments--feel free!

For the Q&A portion, someone asked a technical question about guitars that went over my head, and then someone asked how they juggle all the different responsibilities that go along with being a touring band and owning your own record label. They gave the generic "you do what you have to do" answer and commented that there isn't a lot of sleep involved, and sometimes the only person you can rely on to get something done is yourself. The next question that I remember was about the rumor that they won't be releasing any more full-length albums. Their answer was in line with what I've been thinking/saying all along--that nothing is set in stone, and that even if they decide to do something different with more frequent EPs, it doesn't mean they'll never do another full-length album. They're just not sure what they want their next project to be, and seem to be leaning towards trying something outside of the box. Isaac tried to ask the crowd what we thought about them possibly trying EPs versus albums, and Zac shushed him every step of the way. When Isaac finally got the question out, Zac said "Ugh! Now they're all going to think it's happening for sure!" He was half joking, but I think he really did want us to understand that nothing is set in stone.

Somewhere in all of this, Taylor told us about how they decide what projects to take on and tried to use the variable "X" to explain a hypothetical situation. To paraphrase, he said something like "One of us will say 'I think we should try this new idea'." Only what he actually said was "I think we should try X." Now I knew he meant X as a variable, but my brain is always looking for a joke, and boy did it find one in this particular wording. I'm about as straight-laced as they come--no drug or alcohol use here. But leave me to be the only fan to burst out laughing because all I can think of is that Taylor just inadvertently endorsed the use of Ecstasy to come up with new ideas for their music. An awkwardly silent second or two later, more fans started giggling as they caught on, and Taylor finally stopped to laugh and say that he was NOT talking about trying Ecstasy. I was still laughing too hard to really catch what he said, though.

ETA: A youtube video just reminded me that Isaac left the stage twice during the story. Naturally, when he came back, Zac asked if he had to go number two. Classic Zac.

The Show

The show itself was fantastic. Meiko was a great mix of this socially awkward facade with killer "F you" song writing skills. Word to the wise--don't make her mad. She just might write this catchy insulting song about you and look all adorable and naive while singing it, so you really can't be mad. I'm looking forward to seeing Charlie Mars at my other shows, but I'm a little sad that I won't be seeing any more of Meiko this tour.

Hanson's set had me from the beginning because it was mostly songs from Underneath, but the other wild cards they threw in went together really well. The only song that didn't really seem to fit to me was "Carry You There," but I like it well enough to let it go. Perhaps something from "The Walk" would have been better. "Thinking of You" and "Madeline" were some nice surprises, and I'm always open to watching Zac headbang like a crazy person during "Rock 'n' Roll Razorblade."

"Broken Angel" was this really personal moment during the show for both me and Beth. For me, it represents the whole reason I was there, the whole reason I've been anywhere for Hanson in the last four years. It's the song that I stumbled onto on youtube five years ago when I rediscovered Hanson, the one that gave me my first taste of wanting more. Hearing it live for the first time felt really special to me, and I know I stood there for at least half of the song with my eyes closed, just soaking it in and remembering that very first time. I'm not a very emotional person, but I started to feel that prickly tearful sensation that I've only ever felt one other time at a show.

...and then the girl behind me screamed as loud as she could and I turned around and gave her the best death glare I could come up with. She didn't scream again, but it was a complete buzz kill.

If you follow the Hanson world at all, you'll know that the big climax of the show happened when Hanson brought Meiko out on stage and covered "Superfreak." She did a great job giving the song this funky acoustic makeover, and then Isaac rapped a verse of "Can't Touch This" and everybody lost it. I've never been happier to be in the front row in front of Isaac than when that happened. He kept making these hilariously fitting facial expressions, and again I'm convinced he could do some kind of cartoon or puppet character if singing ever fell through.

Not my video, but whoever took it filmed Isaac at all the right moments:

The show ended with this ridiculous display of all three Hansons doing those clapping pushups. I'm impressed, guys, I really am. Because after a killer 23 song setlist (one ending in "Rock 'n' Roll Razorblade," nonetheless), I was ready to fall over and pass out of exhaustion. And then Taylor starts doing pushups with claps like he's still good to go. Has anyone considered the fact that they might be vampires? Because between that display of energy, their ability to "dazzle" just about anybody in the same building, and the fact that they don't seem to sleep, it's enough to have me convinced.

The night ended with a good-humored homeless man shaking a cup at us and doing a little jig while singing "If you're Hanson and you know it, spare some change!" I truthfully told him that all of my spare change had already gone to Hanson.

October 2, 2011

And We Won't Go Down (Chicago, pt 1, 9/27)


The first night was good. Beth and I managed to stand in a great spot in the balcony behind a roped off set of reserved seats, that, luckily enough, nobody ever showed up to claim. We got in place just in time to really watch Meiko's last song, "You and Onions Make Me Cry." I stood around for a few minutes after the set was over, then decided it was a good time for a bathroom break. By some phenomenon I've never experienced, Hanson was on stage before I got back to my spot. I suppose I'm used to standing and waiting for what feels like (and often is) hours , so this was just completely weird to me. We had a good view and plenty of room to dance, though I suspect anyone that could see us thought we were nuts during "Thinking 'Bout Somethin'."

A definite highlight of the show was when Isaac announced that they were going to play a song they had never played live before and dedicated it to his wife. I spent the entirety of the song feeling a mixture of enjoyment and confusion because I had no idea what the song was and whether it was a new Hanson song or some cover I wasn't familiar with. It had a bit of a country vibe to it, so we suspected cover. After it was over, Isaac explained that it was from a band called "Unamerican," which still didn't ring any bells (we found out later the song was called "Tonight's the First Night"). He nailed it, of course. Maybe it's due to the fact that his anniversary was so soon and his wife was there (as Taylor let slip before the song), but Isaac was really in his element for these shows.

"In the City" was another highlight. I've never cared much for the album version of this song, but give me a reason to jump and I'm all yours. Speaking of jumping...this song provided the single most terrifying moment I've ever experienced in my life. A few songs prior, a man with a cane had pushed into the reserved area in front of us and sat down. We weren't exactly happy, but security told him he could stay and it was near the end, so we moved over a little so Beth could still see and focused back on the show. We paid him little attention, but it's hard to completely forget the person suddenly blocking your view. All that I noticed was that he didn't visibly react to the music at all, simply sat there without moving while Beth and I put all of our remaining energy into keeping up with Taylor's jumping. And just at the climax of the song, at the very end when we finally stopped to catch our breath, I watched the weirdest thing happen. This guy leans over the balcony in front of him (which was at least a foot wide, like sitting at a bar), puts both his hands and head over, struggles to lift his left leg over, and simply lets go.

Watching this happen was absolutely terrifying. That final second of seeing his feet go over was awful, and I had no doubt in my mind at the time that he was committing suicide. I'm sure this was an overreaction in a tense moment, but I still can't think of much else that would send someone head first out of a balcony willingly without regard to the people below. I won't waste your time with speculations of why, and I think anyone that claims to know why is wasting your time too--this is simply what I saw and how my mind reacted to the scene in front of me. I had a split-second thought of trying to grab his feet and save him, but thankfully my mind managed to register that I would probably go over with him if I tried, so I stayed put.

While all this is happening, I'm getting tackled by a security guard trying to stop him. Maybe "tackled" is too strong of a word since I somehow stayed on my feet, but I definitely took a sharp elbow to the head and ended up with hair all in my face and crooked glasses from the blow. The guard took out the short section of rope in front of us and missed grabbing his feet by seconds. Then we all stood there completely flabbergasted with hands clasped over our open mouths and vaguely registered that Hanson was talking about it from the stage.

It was an awkward ending, and Hanson didn't come back out. I was so upset that people were chanting for an encore, but I suppose most had no clue what had happened and just wanted another song. I know from talking to others that night and the next day that no one had any serious injuries, which is a miracle. But I swear, every time I say I've seen the most epic thing possible at a show, something trumps it. If I ever see anything crazier than this, I'm out. Game over. It was fun while it lasted.