January 12, 2017

Back to the Island 2017

I seriously considered not even writing a blog post about this trip and just pasting in the setlists for the solo shows to let them speak for themselves. Every Back to the Island Event has had that one thing that stood out above and beyond the rest, and in my opinion, 2017 has been the year of the solo shows.

Isaac’s Show
Isaac went first and set the bar impossibly high. He effectively made up for every eye-roll moment of last year’s mess of a late set the moment he mentioned Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It was completely unexpected and nothing short of breathtaking. He also covered David Garza’s “Too Much” which included the use of a loop pedal and Isaac playing both piano and guitar on the same song. It was a bit high for his voice, but it was great to see him experiment with some new performance techniques and share a song with us that he obviously loves.

We’re just getting started about Isaac's set. It was a total emotional rollercoaster. He played “A Life Without You” for the second time, and last year that song wrecked me. I managed to keep myself together this time, only to fall apart completely with “Call Me” a few songs later (along with the rest of the crowd). “Call Me” is a song I have never really given much thought, but this time Isaac told us the backstory and it made all the difference.  He said he wrote it for a friend who had been given some bad news. I was able to think about the lyrics and realize it’s sweet that he wrote a song for this person who obviously needed a friend to talk to. Then he told us that his friend had passed away from cancer within the last year, and that he wanted to play it in her honor. I lost it and spent the whole song a blubbering mess with my friends holding me in a big group hug. Even standing there wrapped up in my own emotions, I couldn’t help but feel a lot of respect for Isaac for dedicating this song to his friend and for being able to get through a performance of it when he must have been feeling a lot of the same things I was feeling.

I was at a show a few years back and there was an awful moment where someone loudly called Isaac out in front of the entire crowd for not taking the walk earlier that day. He shot back that he missed the walk because he had been on the phone with a friend who just found out she had cancer. The whole crowd went silent and it was awful and sad and we all felt for him, and I’m sure the heckler felt like the biggest jerk alive. I don't know if this was the same friend, but being there for both moments just felt like it all came full circle in the worst way. It was a beautiful dedication and I’m proud of Isaac for doing it and felt honored that he shared that moment with us.

He also explained that “Beautiful Eyes” was written around the same time his youngest sister was born, and he gave it the context of losing a mother during childbirth and said that the girl in the song didn’t just leave him, she “left” him, and pointed to the sky. I’ll never hear that song the same way again, and it just goes to show that not every song is just some cheesy love story without any depth. Also someone got engaged during “More Than Anything?” I mean come on, this set had tears and joy and life and loss and Leonard Cohen and a church hymn, and I really couldn’t ask for more. I'm still going to make you look at the setlists.

Two Tears
A Life Without You
So Lovely
Next Train
Call Me
Beautiful Eyes
More Than Anything
Too Much (David Garza cover)
Hallelujah / Amazing Grace

Taylor’s Show
Taylor’s solo set was thankfully less of a tearjerker. He blew everyone’s minds (and his nose 😂). The crowd lost it when he pulled out “Love Somebody to Know” and “Breaktown,” which is probably one of the most requested Hanson songs in existence. I have never seen so many phones and cameras fly into the air so fast. I have to say, in a totally unexpected turn of events, my actual favorite from his set was “You Never Know.” I’ve always enjoyed that song, but it has never been anything particularly special to me. Taylor just completely nailed it and included a killer piano solo that won over my piano-loving heart. I feel like as fans we’re always quick to talk about rare and favorite songs and there’s always a focus on the setlist, but Taylor’s voice just sounded amazing and on point throughout the entire set. For me, the quality of his performance outshone the excitement of the song selection, which is really saying something considering the great songs he picked. I honestly think his performance of "You Never Know" might be the best performance I have ever seen him give of anything, or at least it felt that way at the time.

I've Been Down
Make It Out Alive
Love Somebody To Know
Cut Right Through Me
Be My Own
Never Let Go
I Will Come To You
Runaway Run
Get The Girl Back
You Never Know
Get Up And Go
Save Me
Follow Your Lead

Zac’s Show
The best part about Zac’s solo was his willingness to share background information about most of the songs he chose. I always want to know more, and Hanson just loves to be vague and leave songs open to interpretation. He talked about how “Juliet” was originally written for his daughter and that it started out using her name instead of “Juliet.” He said “Fire On the Mountain” is about people not figuring out what life is about and just kind of drifting through without ever figuring out some sort of direction or what they believe. He gave “What Are We Fighting For” a political introduction and talked about being fed up with all of the arguing between opposing perspectives.

My favorite part was what he said about “Siren Call,” which is apparently much darker than I had interpreted. He said it’s a song about deep depression and the dangers of giving into those dark feelings, and that the only way out of it is to start thinking of others instead of focusing on yourself. It just gave that song a much more real and tangible meaning to me, and I imagine anyone who has suffered from depression can relate to that constant pull and how hard you have to fight to keep yourself on track and away from the rocks. You can check out what he had to say about it here (fair warning, there is some strong language).

Chasing Down My Dreams
Fire On The Mountain
Siren Call
No Sleep For Banditos
What Are We Fighting For
Save Me From Myself
Do You Believe In Love
Get So Low

Full Band Shows
We voted on themes for the full band shows months ago and 2 of my 3 choices won, so I was pretty happy with the outcome (acoustic won out over my choice of Christmas). The Rock All Night set was my top pick, and it didn’t disappoint. The only thing that felt missing to me was “Do You Believe In Love” with its crazy drum speed, but we got it as a Zac solo later anyway. If I come into knee problems in my old age, I will point fingers back at every BTTI from jumping on the sand, and this show will probably top the list of culprits.

I loved that the acoustic show opened with “Stories,” and I’m positive we butchered the “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’” dance worse than ever. Taylor called out the “dance moves” happening in the back, so I’m sure Hanson could see our failed attempt, but whatever. We always have a blast trying. This show was the first time I heard WYIYD (live or otherwise) since losing my dad, and I wimped out and went to the bathroom when it started even though it was the final song of the show. I could still hear it, but I was removed enough to lessen the blow. In retrospect, I kind of wish I had just stayed there on the beach and given myself over to that inevitable moment, but it was the same day Isaac played “Call Me” and I had already had enough of feeling sorry for myself.

The final fan club show was great, but not quite as great as the one they played at BTTI in 2014. They chose several of my absolute favorite fan club songs (On and On, On the Road, Sunny Day, Sound of Light, Feeling Alive, No Rest for the Weary, etc.). In fact looking back at the setlist, I’m not sure why it didn’t blow my mind a little bit more because it’s perfect on paper.  I think the energy was just kind of dead around us, and the growing number of people standing on chairs and tall guys wandering around didn't help. There was this particularly great moment I witnessed during “Roller Coaster Love” thanks to those chairs, though. If you haven’t seen it live, Taylor shouts “Your roller…” and the crowd pumps their fists in the air and shouts back “COASTER!” One of the girls standing in the chairs ahead of us did this without thinking with a full drink in her hand. She managed to hold onto the cup, but I watched the full contents of the cup go flying forward in a projectile shower all over whoever was in front of them. Thankfully, I think there was a decent gap between her and the next set of people so she didn’t completely drench the crowd, but it was so great watching it happen, and it felt like slow motion seeing it go flying and watching her and her friends clap their hands over their open mouths in disbelief immediately after. I'm also happy to report that I did enjoy "Freak Out" live so much more than the recorded version, just as I hoped I would.

The final show ended with the best group cover of “Back to the Island” they have done yet, facilitated by Andrew Ripp adding in a rap verse. I loved his show and wouldn’t mind seeing them bring him out on tour sometime. John Fulbright was obviously crazy talented with the harmonica and piano, but he also had the attitude and stage presence of Charlie Mars in a wet blanket, so I’ll pass.

The Events
I don't have much to say about tie dye. There were a lot of people asking for pictures, but it was a slightly more organized chaos than my experience with Taylor's tie dye last year. Taylor and Zac were both able to wander around from group to group even with all of the photo requests, and it didn't feel super crazy. I heard the first session was worse, but I wasn't there. It was still a selfie-fest and probably will continue to be unless Hanson collectively says no to photos and sticks to it. The dye seemed diluted (the several minutes of rain at the beginning of our session probably didn't help), so my shirt didn't turn out great. 

Cards Against Humanity was a lot more tame than I anticipated, but still hit enough of the inappropriate territory you would expect from that game. Zac set it up in a way so that he was the judge the entire time and he was the only one who had to read the cards, which I really enjoyed because I could have actually survived being called up for that version if that had happened. The best part was when he misread the completely innocent "vigorous jazz hands" card, and that's all I'll say about that. I'd be happy to see him attempt this game again, and I enjoyed having it after the show to free up more time during the day.

Cards Against Humanity videos via hansonstage (If you weren't a fan of the language in the above Siren Call video, skip this one entirely!)

Family Feud was a little all over the place. I love Isaac to death, but I don't think he was prepared with the rules of the game. He kept forgetting to reveal the rest of the answers that nobody got, and the crowd had to shout at him every time to get him to do it. I got called up for the second round and Isaac got confused and tried to throw it to the other team when it was my turn even though we only had two X's instead of three. I just remember sitting there holding the microphone for what felt like forever before he stopped debating with the crowd and finally let me answer. (Sidenote: The question I got was "Things you'd hate to forget on a trip," and I'm still appalled that in a crowd full of traveling Hanson fans, my first answer of "tickets" wasn't on the board!)  It was all in good fun and had a lot of laughs and was never meant to be a serious competition, but it probably shouldn't have taken two hours to get through 10 rounds. I'd still do it again and preferred it to trivia.

Family Feud videos via hansonstage

I missed a lot of Taylor's dance party, so feel to leave a comment and let me know how it went from your perspective. I wandered in towards the end and it looked like a lot of the crowd had already left for the night. I did witness Taylor laying down on the stage and taking numerous selfies with the people up front, and it went until around 1:30 AM, so I'd say it was a better success than last year's shortened version. He played a Michael Jackson song twice in the short amount of time while I was in there, so God knows what I missed in the hours I wasn't. Zac and Isaac were both around and mingling with fans during the entire party, which was especially nice for someone like me who isn't really into the whole party scene. The overall atmosphere and vibe of Back to the Island has been so different every year, but this year felt the most laid back to me in terms of fans being respectful of Hanson's space.  I don't know if some of the more overzealous people were absent, or if after five years some have calmed down, but it felt like Hanson was around a little more this year and overall, people handled it better than I expected. I hope that trend continues.

It was neat sticking around for an extra night again and getting to see Little Feat and their fans who are a few decades older than most of us and are on their 15th island event. We watched the fans show up and clap each other on the back and shout "Hey there, old man!" before giving big hugs. During the show, we pointed out different people in the crowd and said "That's you in 20 years. That's Isaac in 20 years. This is us in 20 years." And you know, I really hope it is. And I really don't want to talk about how much money I'll have spent on BTTI or how many swimsuits I'll own by then, but I'll be there. #BTTI2037


joanne said...

This is a great recap!

I agree with you that the crowd this year felt most chill. Even with the occasional selfie-fest, it seems like overall, it was more relaxed. I feel like the late-night games left things a little more spontaneous and fun than the early afternoon activities used to be. And it was fun that the guys were around at the activities that they weren't hosting too.

I hung out for all of the dance party and that was actually the only song he played twice! I couldn't believe how long it had gone on when it was over, since I hadn't been checking the time. We actually did take a little break to soak our feet in the pool somewhere around Hour Six of dancing (we were toward the front for the show and the energy was pretty awesome in the second half of it, especially).

This year was just really good overall! The solo sets were awesome, the full band shows were great, the sets were fantastic, it just seems like it's going more smoothly the more we do it. So yes, I'm in for #BTTI2037!

Unknown said...

Great review! I jumped on my seat when I read your comments on "you never know" cause it blew me away and it was the first song I was looking for online after the event. I spoke about it with my friends and they didn't seem to have engaged with it in the same way I did :)

asphodelia said...

Great post - I agree with most of it. I've only been to 3 BTTI so far so I can't speak for the first two years, but this one definitely felt more chilled out. I think some of the most zealous (you're being kind) attendees were absent, and some of the regular zealots looked a lot more relaxed. Whatever the reason was, it felt more like a beach party than a Hanson show where you have to fight for your spot.

I think you were unlucky on the 3rd night (I agree that the people you have around during a concert make a difference to your overall enjoyment). I somehow managed to get a good spot (Isaac's side, of course) and the energy was phenomenal. To me, it was the best Hanson show I've ever seen so far. Granted, I haven't seen as many as you guys have but for me, this was the best one.

We've talked in private about our emotional responses to certain songs - I'm going to address my own feelings in my blog post. But what I will say is that maybe hearing WYIYD was closure for both of us? Now we've heard it (and you did still hear it even if from a distance) and next time it might hurt a little less. I also like to think that the people we lost were watching us and telling us to enjoy the music and have fun.

Anyway - guess what. I wasn't going to go back next year but...

J said...

HA! Can't insult a artist more then calling him a Charlie Mars :D :D

Yelena said...

Thanks for getting this up so quickly, I always enjoy your reviews!

Majorly agree with you on 2 things - 'You Never Know' and John Fullbright

To Paola's comment on emotional songs - WYIYD was oddly the first song that I heard live after Cale passed, during Taylor's Song Stories at HDAY '15. It wrecked me then, and multiple times since, but hearing it this BTTI felt better. I escaped to the bathroom too, partially to make sure you were ok and partially to get away, but even hearing it in a stall completely alone with the freedom to break down, it felt ok. Maybe Paola is right. :) Never Let Go, on the other hand..

Kelly said...

Holly, I love that fans can always count on you for a thorough and candid event recap (especially those of us who are desperately trying to relive last week)!

As a first-timer I had a different perspective, but came away with a lot of the same impressions. My favorite set by far was the acoustic night--which wasn't 100% acoustic, but I liked that they sent Zac behind the drum kit for the end. In my eyes, the mix of songs was near-perfect: I checked off a bunch of much-loved songs that I had never seen performed live, and got to hear some favorites stripped down to their roots, which is my favorite way to experience live music.

Having never seen the guys play more than one song at a time as a solo, those were all standout performances for me, and I feel like they set the bar REALLY high. I can't say anything about Isaac's set that hasn't been said already--it was my favorite solo show. I had kind of an epiphany moment during Taylor's set somewhere around Never Let Go/I Will Come to You: I tend to tune out during songs like that because they're a little sappy for me, but watching up close how much energy and feeling he puts into those performances, it occurred to me that Taylor kind of loves to sing that stuff--so maybe I should give it more of a chance. And last but not least, I SO MUCH appreciated Zac's stories about the songs he played. The meaning and message behind songs matters a lot to me, and Hanson are not always forthcoming in sharing those details. Zac talking about Siren Call came from kind of reinforced that their hearts are still in it when it comes to songwriting, and I kind of needed to hear that. (Also, have I mentioned that I love it when they swear? Because I love it when they swear ;)

Finally: the members show. I agree that the vibe was off...and from where I was standing, it was because the band was all over the road. They totally melted down midsong (twice), there were tuning issues, forgotten lyrics, and I could see the tension/frustration on their faces more than once. But then there were also AMAZING moments, like On the Road, Freak Out, If Only, and the massive onstage party that is Back to the Island. So for me it was a weird show, but still a good one, in the end.

OK, that's probably the longest comment EVER (sorry)!! But if you can't tell, I had an incredible time, and I am already looking forward to going *back* to the island for real for round 2 :D :D

Cecilia said...

I second everything you wrote, Kelly!

Holly said...

I'm glad to hear from someone else that enjoyed "You Never Know" as much as I did too! I never would have expected to walk away with that being my favorite, but it totally was.

And long comments are always welcome and encouraged :-). I was really surprised how many people raised their hands when they asked who was attending for the first time, so I'd love to hear more from a first timer's perspective. I honestly can't imagine that anyone walked away with a negative experience of the event as a whole, regardless of how many times you've been. I agree the whole thing just seems to go more smoothly and get better over time.