Hanson is MMMBack and (mostly) grown up

The lights dim. The crowd erupts. Three shaggy-haired men take the stage, launching into a driving backbeat reminiscent of a beer-soaked bar band. “Hello, Melbourne!” cries the singer. The crowd erupts again. The band croons a melancholy vocal harmony, their tortured souls bared to the thousands of onlookers. Black Crowes? Rolling Stones? Hell naw. That’s right kids, Hanson is back, and despite how impossibly facetious their tortured artist shtick may be, they’re more mature – and tortured – than ever.

“The process of making Underneath was definitely a much more belabored one than previous albums,” said Isaac Hanson, 24, referring to their most recent studio effort, in a teleconference with The Hatchet. “(It) was what led us to go independent.”

In 1997, Hanson burst onto the music scene, stealing the teen-pop genre right out from under the Spice Girls. They were the most rocking boy band ever, igniting a fire in the heart of every preteen girl from here to Disneyland. They were just three brothers from Tulsa, Okla., and their average age was 13.3 years. They ruled the world.

But not all that glitters is gold, and the genre-defining pop stars were in for an inevitable reality check. Nature grabbed hold, their voices got lower, those awkward teen years set in and after a certain point, the boyish charm just didn’t cut it anymore. They got dropped by their record label, and like it or not, they needed a new musical direction.

And oh boy, did they ever take it in a new direction. Screw the radio, they said. Screw the record executives. Take it underground. That’s right, underground teen-pop. Take it back to the roots, before the lucrative recording contract, before “MmmBop.” Technically, for Hanson, that would be grade school. But we all knew what they meant.

After a brief period of utterly denying their pop songwriting prowess, they have come full circle with the release of Live and Electric: The Best of Hanson (3CG). This greatest hits collection, recorded live in 2005 in Melbourne, Australia, is a driving pop-rock CD/DVD set that is sure to set the heart of an old Hanson fan aflame again. And believe it or not, it will make non-believers take them a little bit more seriously than they did before. Just a little bit, though.

The deafening roar of screaming girls is still present between each song (and at the quiet parts of each song, and any time they say anything to the crowd, and basically any time the music doesn’t drown it out.) It thankfully proves that they haven’t lost their trademark ability to turn a crowd into a screaming, crying mob. Despite the undeniable stigma of being a Hanson fan, if you didn’t know it was Hanson, you may find it hard to guess until a couple songs in.

Radiohead and U2 covers mix in with old and new Hanson originals, carefully retooled to reflect the band’s progression over the years. “I would actually say that this record is a big bridge for many people who have not been familiar with Hanson in, you know, the last four years,” Isaac said. They may have changed, but one thing stays the same – their 1997 smash hit “MmmBop” makes the crowd explode into cheers like nothing else on the album.

Their musical skill is impressive, and they’re not afraid to drop back and play extended instrumentals – much to the chagrin of the roughly 13- to 17-year-old crowd, which seems to be most intrigued by why Taylor’s face looks so weird when he plays those solos.

The band has embarked on an extensive tour, promoting Underneath and their forthcoming documentary, “Strong Enough to Break,” directed by Ashley Greyson, which follows their departure from a major record label and struggles with becoming an independent band. Their tour has been focusing on college campuses, hoping to get a hold on their former fans.

“What we’re primarily trying to do is to spread the word about great music and really grow a passionate fan base and make real connections with people,” said Taylor, 21. “We’re hoping to get lasting relationships with fans for years to come.”

By releasing their album independently, they are able to have complete control of every decision, something they lacked previously. “It gives us an opportunity to not only build our own music, but (to) fuel other musicians and people that we hear as we tour all over the world . and bring new fans to them,” said Zac, 19.

But does the young band have any plans to join their target audience at college? “We found a career and a curriculum before we got to college,” Isaac said. Higher education be damned – Hanson’s found their niche, and they’re sticking to it. n

Hanson will play at the 9:30 Club Oct. 30 with the Pat McGee Band. Tickets are sold out.

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