Winter Break: the Wintry Mix Tour

It seems ironic to go to something called the Wintry Mix Tour to get a break from winter, but that’s exactly how it worked out for me. Having grown up in subtropical south Texas, I never knew any white Christmases. It was a crapshoot whether it’d even be cold enough to wear long sleeves, much less an ugly sweater. At the time, it didn’t seem very seasonally appropriate, but now that I’ve known a few white Christmases, I’d love to try out a holiday in Australia. Hanson announced the tour dates and I went straight for tickets to Austin and Dallas. I enjoyed a blissful couple of days enjoying a warm Christmas just like the ones I used to know.

This tour includes songs from Snowed In and Finally It’s Christmas, a few new songs from their upcoming album Against the World, and some core standards. Having missed the Finally It’s Christmas Tour, I was glad to get another chance to hear some of the Christmas songs live. Joshua and the Holy Rollers weren’t for me — their harder metalish sound and over-the-top performance didn’t seem to go with the rest of the tour — but I always like Paul McDonald’s sets and it was great to see him again.

Some thoughts on particular songs:

Opening with “Finally It’s Christmas” felt very appropriate, especially since excessively early Christmas decorating and marketing seems to have come to a fever pitch these last few years. I’m one of those purists who doesn’t like to start until after Thanksgiving because the longer you celebrate, the less special it is. But right now? Yes, finally it is Christmas.

Seems like with every album, when the guys start playing new songs there’s one that sticks in my head off and on until the album comes out, and with Against the World, I think”Annalie” is going to be it. It’s catchy as hell, but fortunately it’s a bit of the way down on the list after some other earworms that are slightly easier to deal with at the moment.

It’s funny how I’ve been hearing “Crazy Beautiful” live since 2003 and it’s still striking just how good it is as a Taylor solo. Some things are never as vivid in memory as they are in person; this is one of them.

Hanson’s cover of “What Christmas Means to Me” only gets better year after year. Snowed In took it from something I didn’t care for to something I loved, and there is no better version than the one they’re playing right now; I need it recorded. And so does every store and restaurant that bombards their patrons with Christmas music in December.

It seems almost too obvious to follow “What Christmas Means to Me” with “Little Saint Nick,” but sometimes going in album order just works. The Beach Boys’s original is good, but Isaac’s voice makes this song great.

“Wonderful Christmastime/Come On It’s Christmas”: I’ve heard the original “Wonderful Christmastime” and two or three covers of it this year, and yes, it’s awful on its own. But as the counterpoint to “Come On It’s Christmas”? It’s so, so extremely satisfying.

“Winter Wonderland”: still possibly the most unsalvagably irritating melody ever written. See also needing a break from winter; that snowy lane isn’t any wonderland to me.

“Run Rudolph Run”: I was disappointed we didn’t get an Isaac solo, but I can sort of forgive it for getting this, “Little Saint Nick,” and “A Minute Without You.” The energy on this song is unbeatable and it was a great end to the show.

I was not in any way done when I had to go home; like Christmastime itself, the tour is special in its brevity. But if Hanson perchance adds a Tulsa show? Count me in.

Finally It’s Christmas

Last Week before last, I finally got around to listening to Finally It’s Christmas since finally it’s actually time to listen to Christmas music. (Okay, I’m running on Hanson time this year. It’s been a weird one.)

Drawing parallels to Snowed In is unavoidable, but Hanson seem to have embraced it. The new album opens and closes with the same record pops and hisses, and the “Finally It’s Christmas” video begins with a clip from the Christmas special that aired November 28, 1997. I hear parallels between “Wonderful Christmastime”/”Come On It’s Christmas” and “Little Saint Nick.” “Everybody Knows the Claus” and “‘Til New Year’s Night.” The “Silent Night Medley” and “Joy to the Mountain.” “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” They didn’t remake Snowed In, but Finally It’s Christmas feels like familiar territory almost right away.

Setting aside any parallels or connotations, most of these new songs are exactly the Hanson magic I’m here for. Leave it to them to take a song to which I was indifferent — “Wonderful Christmastime” — and hook me with their harmonies and the original medley. “Finally It’s Christmas” has been reworked to its benefit. “Joy to the Mountain” makes two classics their own. “‘Til New Year’s Night” and “Peace on Earth” really are their own; “‘Til New Year’s Night” is a perfect sugar high the way only Hanson can do, and “Peace On Earth” manages to be earnest and not sappy also the way only Hanson can do. “Someday at Christmas” is so much the right song at the right time. Bean feels like “Blue Christmas” actually needs more Taylor, but to me, the entire album’s finished sound is excellent, not overdone or underdone. (Can we perhaps promote Mark Hudson to the fourth Hanson?)

Among other things they did right, we got not one but two Isaac leads. Even among those, we seem to be at odds sometimes between wanting ballads and more upbeat songs, so having him sing lead on “‘Til New Year’s Night” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” gives us some of both. This is perfect; thank you.

This album has just a couple of issues for me: “All I Want For Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland.” The originals weren’t good, then worse, they’ve been massively, painfully, excessively overplayed. There’s a reason Whamageddon is a thing but Mariahgeddon or Wondergeddon isn’t — it’s conceivable you might get through December without hearing “Last Christmas,” but impossible without hearing “All I Want For Christmas” or and “Winter Wonderland” (usually about five times in one day). Sometimes, the right arrangement by the right band can salvage a song — see “Wonderful Christmastime” — but they haven’t introduced anything compelling to either of these. They might as well have skipped them; I certainly do.

In a lot of ways, this album and this season really is like coming home for Christmas — watching old videos, laughing about what’s changed and what hasn’t, and embracing what’s new. When I take out those two awful songs, it’s a short album, but everything I’d hoped for. Finally.

In Color

In Color EP

Even though I’ve had In Color for a month now, the new hasn’t worn off; it’s still in my car’s CD changer. (So is Play, and that was quite the pleasant surprise to find in the store; thanks, guys!) Some EPs have been pretty off the wall and I’ve wondered what they were thinking — the fan club seems to get all their extremes both good and bad — but this year was solid Hanson, catchy and fun and up and down. And again, we got a little more that I lament only the fan club gets to hear. Maybe we’re the only ones who’d appreciate it, anyway.

Somebody Who That Wants to Love You: We all heard echoes of something different during the stream, we had a good time talking about it, and then I forgot about the song until I got the EP, which frankly, is the way I like it. The earworm held out until I’d just gotten on the road home and it still felt like Tulsa. Some of Hanson’s songs feel different in context, and this is one of them. I love the imagery in this song, looking back over a long friendship with someone the narrator would like to love — if he still knew her, anyway.

Ghostwriter: Digital Pants meets the Beatles. I didn’t think I liked this one at first — it sounded a little too much like carnival music at first listen — but it was sneaky; it grew on me until I was pressing back on the CD player to hear it again. For some reason the line “and your grammar ain’t poor” just made the whole song for me, maybe because Zac’s grasp of it is so loose.

Reach Out for My Hand: The optimistic message of this song seems to fit well with “I Was Born”: they’re not God, but there’s also no reason we mere mortals can’t and shouldn’t help each other through life anyway. It makes a good metaphor for their music as well, how during troubled times, one can always turn to their songs for some solace. Music heals, no mistake.

I Don’t Want to Go Home: I had way too much to say about this one, so it has its own post here.

I Lift You Up: . . . Wait, what? There’s a song after IDWTGH? Was this the weird heavy breathing stream? Ew. Yes it was. Yes, I’m skipping this one.

I Don’t Want to Go Home

all my friends are here

I didn’t think it was possible to get under my skin more than “Best of Times” until I heard “I Don’t Want to Go Home.” Usually, the eight-hour drive home from Hanson Day is long enough to scratch the new song itch, but not this year. This year, even being home (and back at work) hasn’t really brought me down.

The Livestream was by far the best of this year’s batch; they hooked me almost instantly with that opening guitar riff and as I began to decipher the lyrics, I realized, this is what I say every time I have to go home after a concert. I didn’t even get up when the stream was over; I watched it twice and kept coming back to it all weekend. When we picked up EPs, I practically ran back to the hotel room to listen, heat be damned. I didn’t quite know it was my new favorite song, but I knew it was something.

Bean even commented, “That song so fits you now that I think about it. . . Zac must have read your mind.” It’s a straightforward rock song the way I like them best; I’d say their talent is wasted on something so simple — it’s hardly the most demanding or impressive vocal performance — except that such plaintive, visceral truth is never a waste: all my friends are here, I don’t want to go home. Even driving home with it on repeat and turned up so loud I could feel it, it wasn’t enough.

Sunday night after the Hop Jam, “I Don’t Want to Go Home” was in my head as we hung out on Main Street with popcorn, watching whatever happened to be going down and putting off going to bed because it meant the weekend was over. Monday afternoon, I said goodbye to my friends, dropped two of them off at the airport, and cranked up the song once I got on the freeway. Never have the post-concert blues been articulated so perfectly.

Twenty years.

“You have so many relationships in this life, only one or two will last, you go through all the pain and strife, then you turn your back and they’re gone so fast. . .” — Hanson, “MMMBop”

So, twenty years. Twenty years since Middle of Nowhere, since the one song that actually did change my life, since I started writing, since I got on the roller coaster. Just like “MMMBop” “got bigger than a song,” according to Zac in a recent interview, this band with a song about loss got bigger than a band. Friends and relatives come into and drift out of your life, school ends, jobs come and go, television stations become nothing more than endless marathons of their pet reality show, hair and clothes and makeup styles change, you move to different apartments or houses or cities or countries, entertainment shifted from television to computer to smartphone, and yet Hanson remains one of the closest things to forever that I know.

I can’t even imagine what kind of life I’d lead right now — who I’d know, where I’d live, what might have its hold on me instead of music — if I hadn’t heard a song, bought an album, and joined a fan club. I’m hardly in touch with any of the friends I knew before, but I’m still close to many friends I’ve made along the way. They’re scattered from the other side of my house to the other side of the world, and I’d have never known any of them if things had been different. On its bad days, the fan group is a high school from which nobody ever graduates, but on its best ones, it’s family.

For the last two years, I’ve intentionally kept Middle of Nowhere on very minimal rotation; I think I’ve listened to it in its entirety as an album about four times total. Some songs and albums, when they stay in rotation, they also stay ageless, but when you don’t listen for awhile, it gains back a bit of its original novelty. Nothing can make it completely new again, but I want to remember when it was and what it meant then. It was my first example of kids my age not just doing something well but running the show. They wrote or cowrote all the songs, they played all the instruments. Around the time I got Middle of Nowhere was the first time I picked up a pen and thought, “Hey, maybe I can do something well someday, too.”

When I can focus well enough to finish things a bit better, I’ll clean up some of that old writing and post it here. For now, happy Hanson Day. Isaac, Taylor, Zac, I can’t thank you enough for everything.

On Happiness

When I realized Isaac Hanson had started an Instagram, I was excited. When he started posting the kinds of quotes that make the basis for his Grace Unknown podcast, I was interested. But one quote in particular was like a needle being dragged off a record: “Happiness is a decision, not a reaction.” I don’t care how good this Kool-aid tastes to the rest of you, I’m going to pass. This is an idea that makes me actively uncomfortable.

What are we even talking about? What is happiness? According to the newest podcast, it’s recognizing and appreciating what we have to feel good about. It’s looking at things positively and writing down things to appreciate, because when one does these things and forces oneself to smile and act happy, the feeling follows. I’ve read this idea before, and since it didn’t seem so far off from what motivated me to start writing in the first place — remembering the happy events of the summer I got Middle of Nowhere — I’ve tried writing down things to be happy about more recently. Overall, I know I have more than most people do via some luck, some hard work, and a few difficult decisions. And the only thing writing down those happy things accomplished was making me feel like an overprivileged first-world asshole.

Here’s the thing: research has found that if a positive frame of mind doesn’t come naturally via your life experiences, trying to force one is actually counterproductive. Acting positively only induces happiness in already-positive people. It makes sense to me. Happiness is partially controlled by the same brain chemicals that are also known to be low in people with depression (and I’d guess vary even in the nondepressed). If one lacks the requisite chemicals to feel happiness, it really doesn’t matter how many good things you write down or how many smiles you force.

These days, my life is a calculated balance of things that I don’t always enjoy, but on the whole, keep me from wanting to punch someone in the face or never leave my house again. Literally every day, I refer to a list of medications and actions that I’ve found genuinely do make a difference: antidepressants, exercise, giving myself enough sleep, vitamin D, et cetera. Despite all those efforts, sometimes I am not happy. Sometimes, those low brain chemicals leave me ruminating on an annoyance or embarrassment or sadness even when I’m trying to think of other things. This is a straightforward biological fact, not some failure on my part because I wasn’t thinking positively enough.

If positive thinking and gratitude journaling genuinely make you happier, by all means, do them. Isaac makes some excellent points, but for me, this wasn’t one of them.

“Get back to what it’s all about . . .” [Play EP review]

Play is the second half of the Loud/Play LP Hanson dreamed up for this year’s releases. We received Loud as the year’s member EP back in May, and that review is coming later. New music always takes me some time to process, and I’m rarely up to making much objective sense on the very first listen, or even actual words in some cases, and certainly not criticizing. I have to listen in a quiet room with the lyrics in front of me, and take the release out for a drive, and play out the earworms, and give it a break and come back to it, and sometimes even make other people listen with me before I really can nail down what I think, and the review I would have written for Play two weeks ago is not the same review I would have written last week or this one. I’m still not off the new music high yet, but I’m getting there.

“Do You Believe In Love”: First Hanson covered The Darkness, now they’re covering Queen. Okay, not quite, and they could have drawn inspiration from far worse places; the current pop charts could practically be subtitled Music Made for Morons by Robots Trained By Monkeys. This song is fun and catchy, but definitely not simple; I still keep getting tripped up singing along even though we’ve had this one for two months, now. The lyrics seem to have evolved a bit since May, and I like the contraction of the chorus even though the crowd part feels a little out of place by comparison.

“Freak Out”: EPs seem to be an outlet for poppier, dancier songs than make it to albums, and perhaps that was what Zac meant in his blog post about going with songs that wouldn’t happen in another setting; this harkens back to “Ooh La La La” and “Dance Like You Don’t Care” for me, but better. Isaac stands out on this year’s releases in ways he hasn’t on others, and I wish I were hearing more of him and less of Zac during the chorus. Like Loud, the Isaac lead gets the title line, or that’s what I’m going with; this instance feels more relevant to the spirit of Play than the ones in “Feeling Alive.” And am I missing something, or are there no horns? I only hear some things that sound like they wanted to be and weren’t. If so, I want to give them props for resisting the urge. Horns aren’t quite down there with kazoos and Mariah Carey, but they aren’t a lot better.

“Man On Top”: Wait, what are we listening to? Anthem? No? Oh, okay. But seriously, the EP takes a turn for the serious here (unless they’re being sarcastic, but that’s likely giving them too much credit) and I can’t give this song its due. I’ll probably come around to it later and spend a whole afternoon with it on repeat when I do, but this didn’t really grab me at Hanson Day and hasn’t since the release, either. Maybe because it’s sandwiched between two other songs I like a lot more, or maybe because the dripping ego and almost direct contradiction to “Feeling Alive” don’t do it for me. I have a feeling this is the one they’re going to play to death live; I can already picture Taylor rockstarring around with the tambourine upstaging Isaac.

“Joyful Noise”: Most likely to provoke random tears in the car. Not that I’d know anything about that. This song sounds deceptively sweet and happy, and the syrup is covering up the bite of the lyrics that hit home the hardest: “Everyone has struggles, but when the music stops they seem to double so turn it up. . .” This quote joined my monitor Post-it collection, and the song joined a (weirdly meta) playlist I’ve got that somehow covers how I feel about music in general and Hanson specifically. One of the things I really actually love about them (and I do not throw that word around lightly where they’re concerned) is that they get it. They get not just the pleasure of driving around with the windows down and the music up, but that music is also a need to be satisfied wherever we can find it.

“Feeling Alive”: I’m not sure why, but this didn’t make much of an impression on me at Hanson Day. I was expecting something after the earworm the September 30th stream spawned (I watched several loops, cursing the future release date the whole time), but I was not expecting Zac’s misguide vocal and what sounded like the drum part of “Every Word I Say” to become this anthem for standing for what you believe in. Taylor songs tend to have these complicated lyrics, sometimes to excess, and this one is no exception — I wouldn’t be surprised to find out a few of those misguide vocal lines ended up in the final recording.

A side note on download quality: initially, I thought Play only sounded a little muddy when I turned it up all the way on my computer or phone and adjusted the volume on speakers or car stereo. (I can normally do this with CDs I’ve imported to iTunes and they sound clear.) Then I put Play side by side in a playlist with Loud, which I imported myself from CD back in May. I’m withholding full judgment until the vinyl record comes since Zac did say Play was meant to be less intense, but based on what I have, the difference is palpable; the bass especially is gone.

Top Twenty-five. . . ish.

Hanson asked recently for “Your Top 25 HANSON Songs,” which twenty-five songs we’d choose to introduce someone to the band. I got as far as copying the list of options into Notepad and started nervous laughing. Even though I have favorites lists going back to ’97, a decade of playcounts, and some time spent thinking on this exact matter already, Hanson have set a task that is not doable — this is worse than the Triwizard Tournament.
I could give them Hanson 101, easy, the stuff the most casual fans or non-fans might already know: the singles that received radio play and were performed on TV, and the songs that get frequent concert play. “MMMBop.” “Where’s the Love.” “Minute.” “With You In Your Dreams.” “TTA.” “If Only.” “Penny and Me.” “Great Divide.” “Go.” “Watch Over Me.” “TBS.” “GAL.” “Fired Up.” “GTGB.” But I’m not satisfied with scratching the surface when I know what’s there if you dig deep. I’d only recommend starting with Hanson 101 if you meant to start there and continue onward; it’s a 101 that begs a 102 (other album tracks), 201 (bonus tracks, live albums, common covers), 301 (soundtracks, non-fanclub EPs, bonus discs, rare covers), 401 (fanclub EPs and fanclub-exclusive releases), and 501 (Digital Pants and other oddities). If you’re only looking for a one-shot sampler, that’s another matter altogether.
They’re asking two different questions in their post. My personal top songs are not what I would use to try to introduce a new fan for numerous reasons. And furthermore, what format are these choices going to take? A setlist to perform live? A collection to release? Why only studio songs when they’ve given the fanclub so many excellent ones and released live versions of others that blew the studio version out of the water? The best I can do is to answer the question three ways: I’m going to give you my own personal top twenty-five, what I would actually play for someone who is interested in them but hasn’t heard much of their music, and what I chose out of the options available.

My own personal top twenty-five (arranged roughly chronologically because that’s how I think):

“Thinking of You,” Middle of Nowhere
“MMMBop,” Middle of Nowhere
“Man from Milwaukee,” Middle of Nowhere
“Madeline (live),” “I Will Come to You” single
“Runaway Run,” This Time Around
“Lost Without Each Other,” Underneath
“Deeper (live)”, The Best of Hanson Live and Electric (Japan only)
“So Lovely,” Version 2.2
“Follow Your Lead,” Take the Walk EP
“Out of My Head,” Strong Enough to Break Demo CD
“Devil’s Nachos,” 2009
“World’s On Fire,” Stand Up Stand Up EP
“Waiting for This (acoustic),” Stand Up Stand Up EP
“Me Myself and I,” Shout It Out
“Sunny Day,” Facing the Blank Page
“All this Love Crap,” Digital Pants Volume One
“Already Home,” Anthem
“Cut Right Through Me,” Anthem
“For Your Love,” Anthem: Live in New York
“Best of Times,” The Sound of Light
“Get So Low,” Icon: The Paintings of Anthem bonus download
“White Collar Crime,” Music Made for Humans (With Robots Trained by Monkeys)
“Grace Unknown,” Inside the Box
“My Mind is Exploding,” Digital Pants Volume 2: Super Digital Pants
“Stop Me In My Tracks,” Loud EP

And the twenty-five I would play for someone who doesn’t know the band well:

“A Minute Without You,” Middle of Nowhere
“Yearbook,” Middle of Nowhere
“Madeline (live),” “I Will Come to You” single
“River,” MMMBop/3 Car Garage
“This Time Around,” This Time Around
“Runaway Run,” This Time Around
“Wish That I Was There,” This Time Around
“Lonely Again,” This Time Around (Australia and Japan only)
“I Don’t Know,” “If Only” UK single
“Strong Enough to Break,” Underneath Acoustic
“Penny and Me,” Underneath
“I Almost Care,” Underneath (Japan only)
“Crazy Beautiful (Underneath Acoustic Live),” “Lost Without Each Other” CD single.
“Hand in Hand” + “In a Little While,” The Best of Hanson Live and Electric
“Deeper,” The Best of Hanson Live and Electric (Japan only)
“Great Divide,” The Walk
“Watch Over Me,” The Walk
“Got a Hold On Me (Acoustic),” The Walk (U.S. only)
“These Walls,” Shout It Out
“Already Home,” Anthem
“You Can’t Stop Us,” Anthem
“Change In My Life,” Anthem: Live in New York
“Get So Low,” Icon: The Paintings of Anthem bonus download
“Grace Unknown,” Inside the Box

Yes, I left out “MMMBop.” If it didn’t win someone over in the last nineteen years, it’s not going to now. If you just have to have it, throw the Live and Electric version in at number twenty-six. As much as I would have liked to enter that list as my answer verbatim, a lot of those songs weren’t options, so here is what I chose for Hnet.

“River,” MMMBop/3 Car Garage
“Thinking of You,” Middle of Nowhere
“Yearbook,” Middle of Nowhere
“A Minute Without You,” Middle of Nowhere
“You Never Know,” This Time Around
“This Time Around,” This Time Around
“Runaway Run,” This Time Around
“Wish That I Was There,” This Time Around
“Hand In Hand,” This Time Around
“Lonely Again,” This Time Around (Australia and Japan only)
“Strong Enough to Break,” Underneath
“Penny and Me,” Underneath
“Lost Without Each Other,” Underneath
“I Almost Care,” Underneath (Japan only)
“Great Divide,” The Walk
“Watch Over Me,” The Walk
“Got a Hold On Me,” The Walk (U.S. only)
“Waiting for This,” Shout It Out
“Carry You There,” Shout It Out
“These Walls,” Shout It Out
“Musical Ride,” Shout It Out
“You Can’t Stop Us,” Anthem
“Already Home,” Anthem
“For Your Love,” Anthem
“Cut Right Through Me,” Anthem

Did I screw this up? Oh, of course. Did you ever read High Fidelity? Do you remember when Rob got asked by that reporter to make a top five list and he made one, and then had to change it literally five times until she said he couldn’t change it again? This was a lot like that. I made my own favorites list and slept on it. I made my list I’d introduce someone with, and I slept on that, too. And then I tried shoehorning it into their options. Some of them were simple; given the option, I’d pick acoustic versions of “Strong Enough to Break” or “Got a Hold On Me,” but the album versions are fine. Conversely, even though I love the songs live, I decided the studio versions of “Deeper,” “Madeline,” and “Crazy Beautiful” don’t cut it and left them off. Later I’ll probably wish I’d left them in on principle that they can be good — better than some of the songs I went with in the end. But those songs I selected hold up for me whether they’re live or studio, and I’m not sick to death of hearing them the way I am certain other songs. Whether I could have chosen better or not, those will do.

Hanson Day 2016: The Good, the Bad, and the WTF

Last year I broke down the weekend by days, but I didn’t feel like retreading the same ground I already covered on Twitter, so I decided to simplify this a bit.

THE GOOD: There were probably a million good things that happened, but these were the things that stood out for me.

ALL the friends: If Hanson events were only about the band, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal to attend when you can simply stream State of the Band and the concert most years from their website. For me, though, one of the biggest draws of fan events is the chance to see so many of my friends all at once. It’s like being a kid at Christmas and getting to see both sets of grandparents and most of my extended family all in the same day. I roomed with two of my best friends, talked to a fellow Isaac girl at karaoke and lectures and State of the Band (it’s always nice to appreciate Isaac with company), and saw several online friends in passing to say hi. I’m never this social at home.

New music both ways: We’ve had releases both ways: we’ve gotten the fan club EP for the year at the event, and we’ve sat in on recording during the show and received the end result later. (Agony is an eight hour drive with the first-ever live performance of “Yearbook” in my head and nothing but the album version to tide me over.) This year, we get the best of both worlds: we received the Loud EP at registration, and we heard songs at the concert from the Play EP being released later.

Isaac hosts karaoke: Isaac Hanson opening with “A Minute Without You” and closing with “Something Loud” made showing up for karaoke worth it. In between, there were people who killed it and others who blew it, and I give most of them credit for being brave enough to get up there. (But for future reference for certain participants, how to learn lyrics: Step one, listen to the song while reading lyrics from liner notes or the band’s website. Step two, when you think you have it down, take the song out for a drive sans lyric booklet. If you screw it up, return to step one. Repeat as necessary.)

Pictures with the band: I hate pestering the guys after events or during Hop Jam for pictures, so it’s pretty sweet having a scheduled photo opportunity.

Zac’s songwriting session: For the last three years, Zac’s recorded a Super Digital Pants song with us during his lecture time. This year his lecture was titled “Choo Choo Trains of Thought,” sparing us the imagery of “Drop your Digital Pants” and “Digital Pants Unzipped,” but for all the innuendo — some intentional, some not — he may as well have gone on with the no-pants theme. Sometimes I find Zac’s humor tedious, others I find it hysterical, and that day, I was crying I was laughing so hard. He probably shouldn’t quit his day job for stand-up comedy, but any time he wants to let us watch him record a song, I’m not going to say no.

No technical difficulties at the dance party: We didn’t hear any songs multiple times or have the party shut down abruptly after forty-five minutes. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we might have even made it through this one without any Mariah Carey.

Gallery prints and books: I did not get to take home a painting this year. I did get to buy a canvas print of one of them and a booklet of the rest, as well as photo prints. I’m planning the expansion of my Hanson wall as we speak.

And, of course, the concert: We heard all the new songs from Loud and four songs from Play. I don’t know if they were actually recording at the concert — they didn’t seem to have mics in the audience like they did at The Sound of Light a few years ago — but it’s fun that the audience was part of the songs. Has anyone else noticed that the more they include us, the more complicated the parts get? For a minute, I felt like I was back in high school choir.

THE BAD: Most of these were pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, but there are always downsides to anything.

The liberal non-Hanson karaoke list: I stand by my drunken Twitter remark about curating a more discerning list to choose from if karaoke happens again next year. I’d love to see more classic rock and roll, more artists Hanson have toured with, and less pop bullshit.

Fanson fuckery: Somehow at the dance party, we ended up in a super-tight crowd of people on the far right side and it was almost impossible to get out to go to the bar or the bathroom. When someone tells you that their friend is standing there but went to get drinks, step back. Yes, Taylor Hanson is on the stage in front of us. No, you won’t be joining him.

Living on Hanson time, part one: I didn’t expect the State of the Band talk to start right after doors by any means, but I think we waited over an hour and a half for things to get started. In an hour and a half, we could have sat down somewhere and had a real lunch instead of just Sunchips and Dr Pepper. Admittedly, this has gotten better in recent years, but updates and an ETA would have been much appreciated.

Living on Hanson time, part two: The guys let us hear four songs they’re working on for Play. But they aren’t actually releasing those songs to us until October (I assume to compensate for Hanson time and other fuckery). As of right now, the concert is still looping on, but I don’t expect that to stay up for much longer. OCTOBER. What’ll we do until then!?

No Hanson set at the Hop Jam: I already wrote a post about it back when the lineup came out, but it deserves repeating: I was still disappointed they didn’t play.

THE WTF: A few things left me going, “Wait, what?”

The BTTI cutout: For some reason, Isaac thought this life-size cutout of themselves promoting Back to the Island was the coolest thing they’ve ever done. As we picked up our wristbands and membership CDs, we were encouraged to take pictures with it. Why? I don’t know. If we can afford to go to BTTI, we already signed up, and all the envy in the world isn’t going to make the cash magically appear in other people’s bank accounts.

Isaac’s lecture: He went over some things that have been on his mind: courage, and positivity, and kindness. About how you matter, but also about making things not about you. About having the courage to step up and do kind things for others. He mentioned that his faith was part of those beliefs, though he didn’t harp on it, and he might be the first person I’ve heard mention Christianity and also brain chemicals in the same discussion (generally, such subjects seem mutually exclusive). In the Strong Enough to Break documentary, they declared him the band’s pessimist. After that lecture, I have no idea what they were talking about.

“Bridges of Stone”: “Bridges of Stone” was never officially released. Not in Japan, not anywhere. (Japan’s version of This Time Around included “Smile” and “Lonely Again.”) We did hear “Bridges of Stone” at Isaac’s lecture last year, but that was only once, and I can’t believe anyone learned it well enough in one listen to sing it at karaoke even with lyrics in front of them. Knowing songs they shouldn’t was the kind of thing people were banned from the fanclub for in the past. I’m surprised Isaac didn’t catch it, and I’m even more surprised anyone touched it.

Nineteen Years of Crazy


Last night was the last stream of the making of Hanson’s EP Loud; whether by coincidence or design, it just happened to fall on Hanson Day, the nineteenth anniversary of Middle of Nowhere‘s release. I watched the stream with Twitter open because half the fun of the streams is the conversation, some silly, some serious, often fueled by some degree of caffeination or inebriation depending on what time it is where we are and tempered by how distracted we are by what we’re watching. This was the last stream, so presumably the video was taken from near the end of the recording process, once they’ve got the song mostly done and working out the last of the instruments.
Amongst some of my friends, there seems to be a consensus that their studio songs end up overproduced. It’s like a pretty person who prefers to wear heavy makeup; it’s fine if that’s what you actually want, but there’s really no good reason otherwise. (Hanson might be the kings of too much of a good thing.) Tonight, we saw the guys recording kazoos (color-coded by their favorite colors, of course). What on earth made them think a plastic whistle that sounds like a horde of angry bees is a sound they would like to include on an EP, I don’t know. Sometimes, I can follow the mental jump from A to B to Z; tonight, I facepalmed and got up for another cup of coffee. But I didn’t turn off the stream. Eventually, they finished with the kazoos and moved on to less irksome sounds.
After nineteen years, this is old hat. Sometimes they get crazy and I’m right there with them. Other times, I can only laugh (or groan), shake my head, and wait for them to finish. Eventually, they always come back around to something worth the wait.

(But seriously, Hanson, those kazoos are really awful. Please consider ditching them. — Everyone.)