Tuesday, 13 March 2018

It's Not You, It's Me: am I heading for a Hanson breakup?

A Preamble

This is a blog post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, but which I have resisted until now. I already have a reputation for being outspoken and I know that some fans consider that a Crime Against Hanson. In some circles, simply being critical of the band will brand you as a ‘negative’ person. But being a fan of a band is not a paid gig, and I have no editor to answer to, or corporation to please. I’m only a fan, without any sort of special status in exchange of which I could reasonably be expected to toe the 3CG party line.

My 7-Year Musical Ride So Far


6 years, soon to be 7

I joined the fanclub in April 2012, completely unaware that 2012 was going to pan out as a very difficult year for the band, with the notorious ‘near-split’ happening, with an album that was proving difficult to finish and a whole load of tumbleweed standing in for content on the website. Not knowing, however, any better, I threw myself into the fan experience with the recklessness and enthusiasm of an absolute beginner. Then, in 2013 Sound of Light EP landed, closely followed by an album - the long awaited ‘Anthem’. That winter, Hanson toured in Europe. I saw six shows, got a M&G and met the guys a few times. I was in music (and fan) heaven. 2014 was relatively busy too, with the launch of a new website (still in BETA in 2018); several livestreams followed. In January 2015 I went to my first BTTI and despite a far from perfect resort and inclement weather, I thought the experience was absolutely magical.

After the walk in Glasgow, 2013. It was my first ever Hanson show.
I will soon be renewing my membership for the 7th time but a lot has changed in the way I feel about Hanson as a band: a lot of the magic has gone, and so far, no amount of self-delusion on my part has managed to bring it back. So, what’s changed? Is it me, or is it Hanson? If I were to take inventory of my seven years as a fan, what issues would crop up? If I were to break up with Hanson, what reasons would I give them? So, come and join me on the therapist’s couch: we’re going for couples counselling.

Talking it through together

Gripe #1: The Music - or Lack Thereof

I love ‘my’ bands to make music. This might sound old-fashioned, but I like new music at regular intervals. I also like to feel that the song I’m listening to actually means something to the artist who made it. Music is one of those ephemeral art forms that allow little margin for cheating, and if there’s no real inspiration behind it, it usually shows. Which brings me to the yearly Members EPs.

Yes, Hanson release some music every year in the form of Members-only EPs. Without a doubt, some of the band's best songs are hidden gems to be found in those EPs. But for every “Grace Unknown” there are several ‘experimental’ songs, sadly forgettable filler tracks with predictable lyrics and little originality. The problem with Members EP is that they are usually written and recorded in the space of a week. Hanson say that they choose to work to such a narrow time frame in order to challenge themselves; but it’s hard not to be cynical and think that, actually, setting aside a single week means getting the task over and done with as quickly as possible. Which, inevitably, raises the question: do actually Hanson still enjoy writing together?

Whatever the answer, the fact remains that a week’s work is unlikely to produce a masterpiece; that EP is not going to be some kind of abridged "Sgt Pepper", or "Pet Sounds", or "The Joshua Tree". Good work takes time, and I find it worrying that Hanson seem to want to spend as little as possible doing the one thing they have committed to doing every year: writing those five songs.

As a result, EPs are often hit and miss, with potentially good songs that could however have done with some polishing or which scream for better production. Lately, a lot of the members songs have a certain derivative quality, eliciting a lot of ‘this sounds like’... ‘that’s an 80s song’... ‘that’s a 60s song’. Those songs can be undeniably fun and catchy, but are hardly the kind of music that will stand the test of time. Take, for instance, “I Don’t Want To Go Home", from the "In Color" EP. It's a great Hanson event anthem, but unashamedly manipulative: it’s about us, it flatters us, it’s self-reflective. But is it a song with universal appeal? Would it speak to the heart of a non-fan in the same way as “These Walls” or “World’s on Fire” spoke to me in 2012, when all I knew about Hanson was contained in a few gigabytes of MP3s that a friend had put on a DVD for me?

The other problem with Members EP music is that those songs are hardly ever get played outside of fanclub events - almost as if Hanson themselves know that that's not good enough material to ‘cross over’ to the non-hardcore crowd. On some of the rare occasions that those songs are played - at BTTI or at the odd pre-show MOE, Hanson appear not to have even rehearsed them, or bothered to learn the lyrics. And when the artists themselves don’t treat their own work with respect, it’s hard not to feel that maybe that work is not the real thing, but only a stocking filler to keep fans happy until the main present arrives - an album. Only, there hasn’t been an album since 2013. That’s right - it’s been five years since Anthem. Where’s the band's burning desire to make new music, to connect with people all over the world?
Anthem: Hanson's last proper studio album

Through the nostalgia-driven Middle of Everywhere CD and tour, Hanson managed to recapture the attention of a lot of old fans from 1997 who had lost interest in the band. So why not take advantage of the increased numbers and hit a bigger, more eager fan base with a new album? Wouldn’t that be the logical thing to do? Instead, Hanson, still hot on the heels of the MOE tour, release a Christmas album, a novelty record of limited seasonal appeal, largely marketed to the scores of the recently acquired fans. For the true music fan, a Christmas album just doesn’t cut it.

And this is why I think that maybe the problem lies with me: maybe Hanson are no longer a band for the music geek. Maybe they never were, and I was just lucky to stumble across them at a time when writing new material was still a priority for them. Maybe I am just the wrong type of fan for the band - I care about songs, lyrics, I search for meaning. I nerd out with friends over a song's smallest detail. Yes, I’m hard to please - but that’s because I have been obsessively listening to music since I was about ten years old, back when all you had was an LP and its sleeve notes, or maybe, if you were really lucky, a few magazine cuttings with a months-old interview to your favourite band. There was no internet, there was no Google, and there were no selfies to post on Instagram. Believe it or not, back then it was all about the music.

It's music I want. Maybe that's where I'm going wrong.

“It’s not you, it’s me” quotient: 10/10


Gripe #2 :The Good Ol’ Days Have Long Gone

Remember when the Hanson Day concert would be streamed live for everybody back home to enjoy? No? You must be a new member. Believe it or not, that kind of thing happened regularly, and I used to set my alarm clock to 1 or 2 AM, get up and watch the stream in the company of friends who, from all over the world, would also be sitting bleary eyed in front of their screen, snacks and drinks in hand.

Remember the old site?

We used to discuss the streams live on Twitter, joking, over-analysing haircuts and facial expressions. Usually, as part of a livestream, there would be a Q&A and a live performance; it all had a kind of homemade, amateur feel, but we loved it. It was what kept us renewing our membership, year after year; it was something we actively looked forward to.

Until it all disappeared.


The old, homemade Livestreams
Now, any mention of Livestreams has been removed from the Membership description on HNET, and the only streams we have seen in recent years are pre-recorded, ‘making of’ videos. What kind of content do we get these days? The odd blog post, a few Instagram stories; meanwhile, the band’s official Twitter account appears to have been farmed out to a social media agency, who are clearly under the misguided impression that Hanson’s Twitter following consists mostly of 12-year olds. How else can you explain that, only recently, valuable band time was taken up by creating an original set of GIFs? What band films original footage with the sole purpose of creating a set reaction gifs? And more to the point, surely the whole point of reaction GIFs is that they’re supposed to be spontaneous, not staged? Someone sack the agency, please: my friend's dog Baxter could surely do a better job.




I’ll be honest: I was used to my fanclub membership offering a lot more, and yes, I miss it. Maybe I’m a spoilt brat, maybe I am resisting change. Maybe I should accept that bands obey to the rule of diminishing returns, in the same way as when you go and buy groceries, you notice that the same product you used to buy now contains less of the product, but for the same price, or higher. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations and maybe it's perfectly reasonable to put one less bagel in the pack, and charge me the same money.

“It’s not you, it’s me” quotient: 6/10


Gripe #3: Everything Else

I’ve been a music fan since I can remember and before getting into Hanson, I went to concerts, listened to the records at home, bought music magazines, and occasionally, in later years, chatted with fans on bands' forums. I ‘met’ one or two of my favourite artists once or twice and was thrilled when I got their autographs. These days, with albums barely selling and streaming venues paying paltry amounts, Hanson and many other bands and artists offering ‘fan experiences’. Cue a bigger and bigger Hanson Day and BTTI. Also cue the increasingly intrusive element of selfie-hunting taking over said events.

Don’t get me wrong - I love BTTI (well, this one just gone, 2018, not so much). I went to Hanson Day twice and loved Tulsa, the events and the shows. But that kind of stuff should be an extra, a way for the artists to replenish their coffers so that they can keep doing what they really want do: make music.

The Rock Boat is one of many 'fan experience' events. Just don't bring up Hanson with them.

Lately, however, the whole ‘fan experience’ thing seems to be the priority for Hanson; the end, not the means. And I can’t help feeling that the band are pandering to those fans who are only in it for the ‘experience’ - the selfies, the ability to boast on social media about ‘hanging out’ with their teenage heartthrob Taylor Hanson. The music is just an after thought. And those of us who question it, who dare to ask when a new album will come, are told to stop complaining, because “Hanson do so much for us”. Well, yes, to be fair, Hanson do a lot for them, agreeing to selfie after selfie, putting on more events at Hanson Day that have nothing to do with music but which offer an opportunity for fans to get close to the guys. Personally, I’d give all of these admittedly fun events up, if that meant I saw an effort on Hanson’s part to hunker down in their bunker and write some new music.

“It’s not you, it’s me” quotient: 10/10

So What Happens Now?

One of the reasons why it’s so difficult for disillusioned members to leave a religious cult, is that leaving your beliefs behind is like admitting that you’ve been wrong; that you’ve been duped by a charismatic leader for whom you would have jumped off the nearest cliff. Yes, I know Hanson are not a religious cult but there are staggering similarities between fan behaviour and cult-thinking.

When Eddie Tried to Quit Mayerism, It Didn't Go So Well 

Take the lack of objectivity among our fan base: it’s as if fans are sticking their fingers in their ears and going LALALA, not wanting to hear anything negative. Because, of course, if you see the old man behind the curtain, and realise that he’s not a wizard, you’ll be sad and disappointed. And like with a cult,  leaving the fanbase will often mean leaving your support system behind; your friends; your social circle. Your day-to-day chats by the virtual watercooler, discussing the band, the fans, planning outfits for the next event, figuring out how much weight you need to lose and what cosmetic treatment you need to invest in for the next picture with the band.

But whatever a fan/cult member’s inner fears may be, shutting down debate because you’re unable to accept that there might be a problem is only going to push discussions underground - in private chats, secret groups and those remaining few social networks that still allow a degree of anonymity. Shutting people down and tell them to ‘stop complaining’ and - worse - to ‘be grateful’ is a surefire way to turn off those fans who still love the band but refuse to turn into unquestioning fanbots who live under the misplaced belief that they should show gratitude to three rockstars for allowing them to keep doing what is, without a question, the coolest job in the world - and not the other way around.



As for me? Like Edith Piaf sang, je ne regrette rien. I fell in love with this band because their music spoke to me, moved me, uplifted me. Back then in 2012 I had no way of knowing that, through Hanson, my life would change in more ways that I could ever imagine. I will never walk away from music that has meant so much to me, but how much longer can I stick around for, chasing after a mirage that keeps dissolving as I get closer?

However - and some of you will be surprised to learn this - I am deep down an eternal optimist. I want to believe that Hanson can still be ‘that special band’ for me; that they can still make a kickass album that I’ll play to death for months on end. I want to believe they still care about making music more than just being a ‘brand’ that flogs us merch in seasonal ‘Collections' like a chain store in a shopping mall.

I'm not ready to turn my back on this band - yet. But I know I’m not alone in thinking that unless Hanson show us that new music is still a priority for them, there will come a time when I’ll completely lose interest. And by then it will be easier to just say “Hanson, it’s not you, it’s me”. Maybe we can still work it out.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Catching the Hanson Bug on Pictures Day

PICTURES DAY

Traditionally, the fourth and final day of BTTI is Pictures Day, i.e. when you get the unique opportunity to have a professional picture taken with all three brothers, and if you’re lucky and determined enough, have a 30 seconds chat with them. It’s not really a Meet & Greet but with over 400 fans attending, it’s a good as it gets.

Let’s be honest: most of us plan maniacally for Pictures Day. I doubt that the majority of fans are delusional enough to be trying to impress the guys; the reason for all the preparation is that, as we all know, once the photos are up on the HNET gallery, everybody in the fan base will be pouring over them for days and weeks. And you don’t really want to be the Worst Dressed Fan of BTTI 2018, do you? And so, every year, we prepare, carefully choosing The Right Outfit, accessories, shoes, hair and even shapewear (the latter, by the way, is torture in the tropical heat).

A constant on Pictures Day is the weather. According to BTTI law, Pictures Day will inevitably be the hottest, sunniest, most infernally humid day of the four-day vacation. This year was no different, and in marked contrast to the monsoon-like weather that we’d had since landing in Jamaica several days prior, we woke up to a very hot Pictures Day morning, with the sun threatening to poke its face through the rapidly thinning clouds. As I stepped out on the porch, I instantly began to sweat. Yes, it was Pictures Day alright.

I’d had my Picture outfit planned for months. In a stroke of luck, I’d found a flamingos print dress online early in the year, and had the sense to buy it before it sold out (flamingos are the new unicorns). So once all the make-up was applied and a futile attempt to de-frizz my hair was complete, I joined my friends by the side of the pool, close to the gazebo-like island where the photos would be taken and where a long queue of fans had already formed.

Hanson weren’t even there yet, and none of us felt like standing in line for hours, so I sat at the Level bar with Howra, who was wearing a flower print dress. The sun was breaking through the clouds and we wanted to sit in the shade with our bottles of water in an effort to sweat as little as possible through our picture outfits.

Within minutes, however, a very large beetle-like insect began to fly around us. We waved it away, but within seconds, it was back, circling around us even more insistently. 
“It’s as big as a helicopter” I yelled, jumping out of my seat. 
Evicted from our nice, shaded spot, we moved to a pair of loungers by the poolside. But no sooner had we found a new spot, than the fiendish creature was after us again, its drone-like buzz getting closer, louder and more menacing. With the bug now inches away from our faces, Howra and I sprang up from our seats again and sprinted away in opposite directions, screaming like characters in Scooby-Doo, as the fans in line watched us bemused.

An accurate representation of Howra and I running from the bug

This went on for several minutes. during which we’d occasionally pause for breath, hoping that the monstrous thing would desist, only for the chase to start all over again, and once again, our demented dance would resume, amidst our increasingly shrill cries. Then, just as the bug had landed on a sun lounger, a waitress from the bar walked towards us, carrying a large beach towel. Amidst fits of laughter, with one deft strike she whacked the insect, sending it tumbling several feet away on the paved floor.

We looked at her in awe.
“That’s what they do,” the waitress said, still laughing. “They pick on someone and won’t leave them alone. They don’t sting but they can dig their claws on your skin. He must have been attracted by your clothes.” she added, eyeing our dresses. Of course - I thought. Howra’s dress had a flower pattern, and the beetle must have mistaken my pink flamingos for some flowers: it thought we were food. I did feel sorry for the poor creature’s premature end, but on the other hand, I really didn’t fancy the idea of those claws on my skin - not before my $3,000 picture with Hanson.

The Bug

Picture time came and went, in the usual ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ style. When I let Taylor know that he’d played two songs out of three from my wishlist, he asked me what the third one was.
“Carry You There”, I said.
“Oh,” Taylor said, nonchalantly. “That was actually on my solo setlist.”
"Oh." I was not impressed to hear that that pesky Hanson brother had skipped one of my favourite songs. “I should throw you in the pool, then.” I said. But Taylor was already turning toward the camera, perma-grin firmly place, and I don’t think he heard me. 
That was probably for the best.

Is Taylor laughing at my feet?
 ISAAC SOLO SET

A confession: until now, I was under the mistaken impression that Isaac’s set this year was mostly made up of mushy ballads that all merged into one. But looking back at the setlist, it's clear that my memory betrays me: after a rare performance of ‘Every Day”, a very energetic rendition of “River” followed. Next was “Hand in Hand” - a song which I’m always glad to hear, although I think it sounds better with a full band. “Smile” brought back the usual mention of a previous BTTI when Isaac got “Smile” and “Sometimes” mixed up, and “Leave the Light On” is always a crowd pleaser - one of those good, solid Isaac leads that you can sing along to. There was a made-up on-the-spot song about Jamaica, followed by a new song, “Missing, Needing, Wanting You”. The latter falls into the ‘sappy ballad’ category, just like the next track, “A Life Without You”,  a song that Isaac wrote at 14. It was first dusted off for BTTI 2016, and has become a feature of his solo lists ever since - one of the two songs he plays on the piano (the other being “More Than Anything” - which he’d played as a solo at the Members’ show).



The set ended with “Lonely Again” - something I’d been hoping to hear for a long time, and one of those typical Hanson songs with sombre lyrics disguised within an upbeat tempo and an infectious chorus. Isaac himself said something along the lines of “you can never have too many “sha na nas” in a song” - and who can disagree with that? It was an apt closing to a perfectly good if somewhat predictable set; Isaac turned up on time, wasn’t too drunk and didn’t let fans hijack the set with their requests. But it wasn’t the heartfelt performance he gave last year, and it wasn’t the upbeat, crowd winning solo set of 2015 - my favourite Isaac solo set out four BTTIs I’ve been to date. But that’s okay - every year a different brother surprises me through his solo set; 2015 was Isaac, 2016 was Zac and 2017 was a close call between all three. This year, the winner was Taylor (and not because of his impromptu swim).
Isaac Solo Setlist

Like many fans, I hadn’t been overly impressed to hear that “Singles” had been voted as one of the three BTTI themes, although I still favoured that over a Christmas set. Hanson have such an extensive discography that it seems a bit of a shame to use up a whole night of BTTI for singles, especially considering that there haven’t been many of those in the last few years. 

Despite my initial reservations, I enjoyed the Singles show, not least thanks to Hanson’s unusually tight performance - as glitch-free a concert as I’d ever witnessed at BTTI, where unpredictability rules. The choice of setlist helped, as in addition to the inevitable appearance of “Where’s the Love” and “Get the Girl Back”, we got treated to more obscure should-have-been-singles and B-sides releases, such as “Every Word I Say” and “Deeper” (as everybody probably knows by now, the latter was the song through which I discovered Hanson). 

It was fun to hear Hanson’s only recent single, 2017’s “I Was Born” get the BTTI improv treatment and become “The Ballad of the Baby Turtles” when, for the second consecutive night, the little reptiles decided to hatch on the beach; “don’t underestimate the sting of a baby turtle”, sang Taylor, instantly creating a new Fanson Fad for anything turtle-themed.

The Singles Show

One notable change from previous BTTIs was the final performance of ‘Back to The Island”. It had become tradition for the musical guests to join Hanson on stage for a group rendition of the song, but this year, by Day 4 both Stephen Kellogg and Chris Carrabba had left. Did Hanson, who are known to be extremely parsimonious, try to cut costs by only paying for the guests to stay until the night they were due to play? That would never happen, right?

Breaking from the singles theme, the set ended with two covers - The Darkness “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”, which is always a hit with the Zac girls, and a repeat of AC/DC’s “(You Shook Me) All Night Long” - which they had already played on the first show. Personally, as I’m not a fan of either song, and considering that one had already been played, I would have chosen something else to choose the final show, but as usual, I’m nit-picking. The final show certainly didn’t disappoint.

The Singles Show Setlist

Afterwards, once Hanson had left the stage and the lights had gone out, I once again had a strange feeling, very different from the usual Post Concert Depression; a feeling that, although BTTI was now over, it hadn’t even happened at all. As Howra kept saying, BTTI 2018 was like a storyline from LOST. We were on the island, but it wasn’t really the island as we knew it: it was all a little bit weird.

It's the island, man!

Anyway, there was still one event to go through…

TAYLOR’S DANCE PARTY

There’s really not much I can say about the ‘dance party’ other than I barely paid attention to it. This year, the party took place on the stage in the middle of the square, where the resort’s entertainment team did their daily performances. In that respect, the location was an upgrade from previous years, when it was held in the buffet: more street party, less budget cruise ship. At one point, some of the male dancers from the entertainment team got on stage, where they provocatively gyrated for a few minutes before Taylor saw sense and sent them packing.

A Jamaican Street Party
But really, it was more of the same - Taylor on stage, fans surrounding the stage gawping at Taylor, fans handing Taylor shots which he always tries to refuse and then inevitably ends up accepting: and who can blame him? Surrounded by fans, he needs all the help he can get.

Unlike last year, Zac and Isaac were nowhere to be seen - I can only guess that they felt they’d already paid their dues by turning up on the first night. And again unlike last year, this time I wasn’t anywhere near inebriated enough to enjoy Taylor’s choice of music.



So I chatted with friends, took photos with people, and just milled around. Towards the end, we went to watch the action from the far side of the barrier. Soon, it was clear that Taylor was about to leave, triggering the Hanson Gravitational Pull Phenomenon: our previously empty spot suddenly filled with fans, many of whom were sipping a drink and acting casual, as if just passing by. If you’re into people-watching, that’s quite an amusing dynamic to observe.

Once Taylor had been ushered away, the assembled crowd of fans slowly dispersed; the bar closed; the resort went back to its weird vibe of a Caribbean Disneyland crossed with one of those American ghost towns you see in old Westerns. Through hidden speakers, crickets chirped and green tree frogs croaked - stubbornly keeping up that tropical rainforest illusion for one more night.

And that was it - BTTI 2018 was over. Nothing had been missed out - we’d had all of our shows, our activities and our pictures. In one way or another, Hanson and Island Gigs had managed to deliver everything they’d promised, and they’d done a great job considering the circumstances.
The weather couldn’t be helped, but there were a few issues that maybe could have been avoided, and which certainly contributed to making this BTTI a little less amazing than its predecessors. And out of the four BTTIs I’ve attended so far, 2018 is going straight to the bottom of the list for me.

Did I still have fun? Of course: when you are with the right people, you can always make the most of any situation. The food was good, the music was great, and we were away from the daily grind of our real lives at home. And now, the memory of wading through the quagmire or drinking shots of Grand Marnier to keep warm at the swim-up bar will keep us going for another 12 months, until we are ready to do it all over again. 

So I guess I’ll see you next year, and let’s hope it’s in Jamaica.

The Quagmire
On the Sky Explorer at Mystic Mountain (L-R: Howra, me, Ingela and Nilene)
Mango Daiquiris with Ingela and Kelly

My Favourite BTTI 2018 Moments:

To hear “World’s on Fire” and “These Walls” with Kelly; pool volleyball; mango daiquiris; our trip to Mystic Mountain; the dessert counter.

My Least Favourite BTTI 2018 Moments:

The Monsoon; the concerts in the greenhouse; the selfie hunters at Tie Dye; some of the resort staff; putting on several pounds with every visit to the aforementioned dessert counter.

Hopes and Dreams for BTTI 2019

Going back to the Jewel; a selfies ban during organised activities; to hear “Carry You There”; Butch Walker on Guests Night.

L-R: Howra, Kasey, me, Ingela and Kelly. Oh, and Hanson in the background.

Back to the Island is an annual event for Hanson.net fanclub members organised by Hanson and Island Gigs. Details of the 2018 event just gone can be found here.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Day 3: A Hanson Tsunami


We're All Gonna Dye 

I can’t even remember what we did the morning of our officially-third-but-effectively-only-second day: most likely, a combination of eating, drinking, and maybe a brave dip in the pool. The first item on the day’s agenda was the dreaded Tie Dye and as my love for crafts has been well-documented in a previous post, what could possibly go wrong?

In my experience of previous BTTIs, the second session of any of the craft-type activities is usually the least disorganised, so this time we had orchestrated to register for the red pass, in the hope of a hiccup-free second session. The schedule change, however, meant that both sessions would to be running back-to-back. When we heard that our session would start thirty minutes later, and saw Hanson going in the opposite direction on board of a golf cart, I had the nagging feeling that double bluffing fate would not work in our favour. 



This year, at least, was the first time I could actually follow the tie-dye demonstration, which took place on a raised platform. We were at the table closest to the front, and when the demo was over, Isaac, who had just dyed a shirt in the colours of the Jamaican flag, came over to our table. Jackpot, I thought. 

They All Wanna Dye

Kelly and I complimented the Old Man for the show the night before, and then, in an idiotic tone I didn’t even recognise, I proceeded to tell him how I liked his work best and how I wanted to use the same colours, except, we didn’t have any green. The fact is, I liked the shirt he'd just dyed because of the Jamaican flag theme, but who’s going to believe that? By then, however, Isaac had already legged it all the way back to the stage to fetch me some green - probably grateful for the chance to get away from this moron. By the time he’d come back with a bottle of dye, I’d managed to find some - it was right in front of me, on the table.* 
(*I’m sorry but it looked blue).

“Ooops, sorry, we already had some, after all.” I said. I’d like to say that Isaac rolled his eyes but he was wearing shades. Let’s face it though: he probably did. He stuck around for a few moments, during which all my friends and the others at the table appeared to be struck by a sudden and debilitating form of mutism. Unsurprisingly, Isaac soon turned on his heels and left.

And that was it as far as “Hanson interaction” went:  soon, they were all swarmed by selfie hunters, who this year cranked it up several notches on the annoying scale by leaving their tables to follow the guys around, making it impossible for them to mingle. When Taylor tried to make his way to the front, the Hanson Gravitational Pull Phenomenon happened. For the uninitiated, the HGPP is when fans realise that a Hanson brother is on the move, and so they begin to magically glide towards him, very nonchalantly - or so they think - pretending to be just casually passing by. Very quickly, the Hanson Brother in question is surrounded with no way out, and only a miracle, or at a push, Rebecca, can save him.

That’s exactly what happened during tie dye, and by the time Taylor had extracted himself from the crowd, he was all but sprinting towards the paved walkway, ‘I’m done’ written all over his face. (Genetics have served Taylor Hanson well: not only does he have a great voice and a pretty face, but he has also very long legs that can get him away from fans quicker than you can utter the word ‘selfie’).

As I watched Taylor drift away like Wilson in “Castaway”, something inside me snapped: there was something I wanted to say to him, and considering how things had gone so far, who knows if I’d ever get another chance? I strode purposefully toward him, and after waiting for him to take yet another selfie with someone, I pounced.

Taylor!

“I’m not going to ask you for a photo,” I blurted. A flicker of surprise flitted on Taylor’s face, and I forged ahead.

“I just wanted to thank you for playing “World’s on Fire” last night. It meant a lot to me and my friend.” I carried on, knowing that Kelly was standing just a couple of feet away. As the expression on his face changed from auto-Hanson-selfie mode to something more genuine, Taylor explained the reason why that particular song doesn’t get played much: in a nutshell, and I paraphrase here, “World’s on Fire”  belongs to a certain period, which they have now moved on from. In turn, I politely objected and told him that fans love that song and that they should play it more often. Finally, I thanked him again and then let him gallop away from the circle of fans that was rapidly closing in around us. Mission accomplished.

I’ve had a handful of opportunities to interact with the band in my six years as a fan - nowhere near as many as some of the long-standing, super-duper hardcore fans I know. But I can say with absolute certainty that whenever I’ve spoken to one of the guys about their music, they have always reacted with a mixture of gratitude and surprise, as if they’re not quite the jaded musicians that you’d expect them to be after 20+ years in the business. I don’t think it’s an act: why else would you want to be an artist if not to connect with people over your music? And to me as a fan, that minute-long connection is worth a thousand photographs.

Talking to Taylor about my favourite Hanson song

Taylor Solo Set

Fast-forward a few hours, which I’m guessing were spent eating more bite-sized desserts at the buffet, and we were finally on the beach for Taylor’s solo set.

For anyone who was there at BTTI 2018, Taylor’s solo set will forever be etched into their memory as that time when Taylor took his socks and overshirt off and invited fans to join him for a dip in the ocean. A half-undressed Hanson brother with a deathwish and four hundred fans at different stages of inebriation: again, what could possibly go wrong? Rather predictably, a stampede ensued, and one cannot help but wonder if the tsunami warning that we got a couple of days later was the impact on the tectonic plates from a couple of hundred Hanson fans suddenly running into the water. 



It goes without saying that I did not run into the water, and for a number of valid reasons. Firstly, I didn’t want to lose my spot; secondly, I wasn’t dressed for it and didn’t fancy spending the rest of the show cold and wet. Last but not least, that stretch of beach is very rocky and a fan had already injured herself a couple of days before by taking a dip without water shoes. As I had survived the injury-inducing yoga class, I didn’t want to tempt fate again, not even to catch a glimpse of Taylor Hanson emerging from the water, weighted down by waterlogged clothes, like an all-American Neptune on a wet t-shirt contest.  

Taylor Neptune

Taylor’s aquatic antics aside, my one true favourite moment in the whole set was a rare performance of “These Walls”. The stripped down, acoustic version that is featured in the “Stand Up, Stand Up” EP was one of the first Hanson songs I ever fell in love with - together with “World’s on Fire” and “Carry You There”. Finally, some six years later, I was seeing it performed right in front of me. Other highlights of the set were “Believe”, “Be My Own” and the criminally neglected Anthem track “Cut Right Through Me” - which, however, would have sounded better with the rest of the band.

 

Taylor has a tendency to cut his solo sets shorts, and this year, due to his impromptu swim, was no exception. As I would would later find out, “Carry You There” had also been on his setlist, which means that I’d come incredibly close to completing my Holy Trinity of Hanson Songs I Wanted to Hear. On the other hand, I now have a good excuse for wanting to go back to the Island again next year.

Taylor Solo Setlist


Guest Artist Night - Stephen Kellogg

One of the problems with changes of schedule at BTTI is that it often leads to guests and Hanson having to play on the same night; out of four BTTIs I’ve been to, this has now happened three times, making it the rule rather than the exception. Guests and Hanson on the same night means that not only fans will camp out for Hanson, so no first 3-4 rows for the guests’ own fans, but also, that there’s no night off to chill out and enjoy some music without the pressure of having to be there at a certain time for the main show. 

Alas, BTTI 2018 was going to be one of those years again, with Stephen Kellogg playing his set just before Hanson. 

I’ve recently become a fan of ‘SK’ - as fans affectionately refer to him - and after seeing him twice in the UK last October, I was excited to see him play on a beach and in the company of the person who had got me into this music - Kelly. The set was really good fun, and although some of the songs he played might not have the immediacy that suited an unfamiliar audience, SK got a really warm response from the crowd. 

Afterwards, we went over to chat to him for a few minutes, and I asked him to sign a live CD that Kelly had given me as a belated Christmas gift. When I mentioned that I’d taken my husband to his Manchester gig, SK nodded. ‘Oh, your husband was that really cool guy, right?’. Suffice to say, he won even more fan points with me that night (and my husband will never admit to it but he’s secretly thrilled).


Chatting to SK was a stark reminder of how fan/band interaction can be when fans act like normal people in the presence of normal people. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will ever happen with Hanson fans, and ultimately, we, the fans, are the ones who lose out.

My signed Stephen Kellogg CD
The Main Show - Members night

The Members Only songs concert is really one of my main reasons for going to BTTI, as Hanson tend to stick to familiar album releases when they play normal shows - especially in Europe.

This year’s set was a good mix of new and old, incorporating tracks from their most recent EPs - “Somebody That Wants to Love You”, “Ghostwriter”, “No Rest for the Weary”, regular BTTI favourites like “Best of Times” and “White Collar Crime”, with the inclusion some rare treats such as “What’s Your Name” (an Isaac lead I had not yet heard live) and “Coming Back for More”, during which SK, who had co-written the song, joined Hanson on stage for an unforgettable sing-along.



A regular feature of BTTI sets is the made-up-on-the-spot song, and this year we got treated to “I’m Gonna Play The Chords Wrong” which preceded “On the Road”; those moments are always a lot of fun and show Hanson as their most comfortable and relaxed - a side they are clearly only happy to show to a small audience of people who, let’s face it, are never going to boo them offstage.




The show ended with a pretty epic rendition of “I Don’t Want To Go Home” from the “In Color” EP. We all knew that that song was going to become a new BTTI anthem, although maybe it would have been more fitting on the final night. As I sang along with Zac - “all my friends are here, I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna go home”, it thought of how strange this BTTI 2018 felt - how everything was just a little out of sync.

Members Show Setlist

Family Feud

Just like Cards Against Humanity the day before, Family Feud took place in the buffet; but this time we’d got there earlier and bagged a relatively decent spot by the side of the stage. I was tired and a little bored, and once the game started, I quickly got distracted by checking my social media. I knew my number wouldn’t get called, so there was no need to really pay attention. Or so I thought.

Because at one point I became vaguely aware of Isaac’s calling numbers in reverse order - 136, 135, 134…. something registered in my mind that the next number would be mine...133 … oh no. Oh no no no. No. My number? That’s not how it usually works. I willed myself to get up and walked toward the stage feeling like someone who is having an out-of-body experience on their way to the gallows. Would I make a total fool of myself in front of my favourite Hanson brother?

I took a seat at the front, and swept my gaze around the room while I waited for the other players to make their way to the stage. To my left was my table, with Howra, Kelly and Ingela grinning at me, phones raised to capture the moment. Somewhere in the centre, semi-disguised behind a pillar was Kasey, sticking a thumb up in encouragement. And right at the back was Suze, waving maniacally like an over excited parent a her child's school play. I laughed, and soon the nerves were gone. 

Playing Family Feud with Isaac Hanson

(For posterity: the question was ‘what does a man do when he starts losing his hair’ and my answer was ‘he shaves his head’. I did not win any points but Isaac said he agreed with me, not with the game. Win).

And so, after a day packed with a lot of music and a hefty dose of fan madness, another day was over, despite the fact that BTTI had only really just got going.

Stay tuned for Part 4.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Day 2: When Hanson set the World on Fire in a Jamaican Greenhouse

[Apologies for the tiny font - I've tried everything and it keeps reverting to tiny. Hit CTRL and + or CMD and + on your browser to increase the page size]

We woke up to, guess what, more rain. The outlook was bleak.

Technically, it was Day 2 and BTTI had not even started. Hanson had tweeted a revised schedule which pretty much packed four days’ worth of events in three days, so out went my plans to have more beach time this year. Not that the beach looked like much of an option, anyway.

The first event of the day would be Zac’s solo set (the location still to be confirmed at that point) so Howra and I decided to try the yoga class, which another friend had taken the day before. I figured the class would probably be geared towards beginners - enough for me to keep up. What could possibly go wrong?* (*this became the mantra of BTTI 2018 for me)

We walked up the stair to the gym only to discover, to our dismay, that there was absolutely no designated floor space for a single person stretching, let alone for a yoga class. At least seven or eight people had turned up for the class, and we all looked around the small fitness room in disbelief, wondering how on earth we were going to all fit in there. But before I had a chance to bail, a man in shorts and massive biceps appeared, greeting us ominously: “I’m probably not as flexible as some of you.” Awesome. 



Awesome.

Deeply regretting my latest life choices, I found myself a space between the treadmills and the lat pulldown and unrolled the mat, which had probably last been wiped when Bob Marley was still alive. When Biceps Man began the class getting us to go ‘cold’ into a deep back bend, I knew it was a terrible idea - I felt it was too rude to leave - proving that some Very British Problems are real.

We struggled through the routine, battling on with the lack of actual instruction, the dirty mats and the horrific B.O. that was emanating from someone in the room. Then, to our horror, Biceps Man began to do take a woman through deep, face-down quadriceps stretch (a very, very bad idea on cold muscles). I hesitated: I needed both of my quadriceps intact for tonight’s show, but walking out of a class is pretty poor etiquette. Howra was having none of it. “We don’t owe him anything.” she whispered menacingly. At last, we left, and my lower back hurt for the rest of the day.

I can’t remember much of what we did next, other than once again taking our rage to the buffet and eating a ton of food. At some point though, we ended up joining some friends to a game of beach volleyball; I suck at sports beyond anyone’s imagination, but that afternoon was one of the most fun moments of the whole week and I was almost resentful that we had to get out of the pool to get ready for Zac’s solo set, which was now going to take place in some sort of tented structure at the entrance of the resort - basically, a greenhouse. Once again the question popped into my mind: what could possibly go wrong?


The Greenhouse

The greenhouse was situated on the Melia’s extensive grounds, which offered, among other things, a climbing wall and ziplining - all closed in the inclement weather.
  Reluctantly, I joined the queue that was snaking all around the Melia’s parking lot. The best thing about BTTI  is that you can rock up whenever you want and still get a good view of the stage; but now I felt like was about to attend a regular tour stop, with the added bonus of being at the back of the queue. By the time we got into the greenhouse, the room was packed, and although I knew there was a stage at the other end, it was so low I could barely see Zac’s keyboard.

The show started an hour late - an hour I could have been playing pool volleyball - and when Zac finally took to the stage, I could barely see the top of his head. It was going to suck to see a solo set - one of BTTI’s unique selling points - in such an abysmal venue, but it was better than the alternative (an outside venue) or no show at all. I told myself that at least I could hear.

Or so I thought. Because when Zac opened the set with “On The Rocks”, the sound was absolutely terrible. He carried on with “Call Out My Name” - one of my favourite songs from “Sound of Light” which, however, doesn’t particularly benefit from the solo treatment. Zac’s banter with the front row - hard to decipher even in optimal sound conditions - was virtually unintelligible from where I stood.

Next was “No Sleep for Banditos”; I love that song (in fact, I love the whole EP, which is the first physical Hanson CD I ever owned) but it wasn’t the best rendition I’d heard. As Zac ploughed his way through "Misery", “Letters in the Mailbox” and the omnipresent “Juliet”, I go the sense that the whole set was not going very well at all, with wrong keys, wrong chords and forgotten lyrics. I would have liked to hear a better version of "Chasing Down My Dreams" for the same reasons mentioned for NSFB; on the other hand, I would have been happy to skip  "Do You Believe in Love" - why on earth does Zac insist on playing it as a solo, when it needs a band, and above all, drums? The set ended with a new song, “The Ballad of Seymour Better Times”. I wish I could say that it was awesome but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me - hopefully the finished version, if it ever emerges, will.* 

Zac seemed to be eager to walk off stage as quickly as possible, just as I was equally glad to leave the greenhouse. As we made our way outside, I came to the conclusion that I’d just watched my worst Hanson solo show so far - even worse than Isaac’s shambolic performance of 2016. 

What do you do when things go wrong at BTTI 2018? You head for the buffet, which is what we did, again. We took out our frustration on the dessert counter, and if I gained a few pounds that night, Zac is the one to blame.

Zac Solo Setlist
*A recording of 'Seymour" has emerged, and you know what? I rather like it. It's a kind of Wilco-like ditty that wouldn't sound out of place in a Sundance movie. You know what I mean?

The Main Show - Rock All Night

Fast forward a few hours and we were back in the greenhouse, or rather, in a large kind of ante-chamber that had been set up as bar. One of this year’s guests, Chris Carrabba, was playing his set. I poked my head through the doors:  a cat was being strangled to the tune of a sort of Dropkick Murphys-lite, fanson-friendly ersatz punk. I headed straight back out to the bar. Only minutes earlier, I’d spotted Stephen Kellogg getting out of the shuttle bus, even managing to quickly say hello. Now, that was a concert I was actually looking forward to.

By the time the main Hanson show started, I was once again at the back of the room, and couldn’t see squat. Hanson opened with “Oh La La La”, which I haven’t heard anywhere near enough times live, then carried on with “Fired Up” and in “The City”, followed by ‘And I Waited’. Oddly, I have no recollection of hearing songs two, three and four; I suspect that’s because I was finding it hard to immerse myself in the music when all I could see was the crowd and the top of Isaac’s ‘wave’. Luckily, all of that was mitigated by Stephen Kellogg suddenly appearing in front of me and nonchalantly leaning against a pillar while he watched the show, every inch the off-duty rockstar checking out his mates’ band. I needed to find the person who had got me into his music, and drag her there. 

Stephen Kellogg looking effortlessly cool

I found Kelly about 10 rows from the stage, Taylor side; from there, you could at least see the band’s heads. “Blue Sky” was almost finished by that time, and I was trying to tell Kelly that SK was at the back, when the unfathomable happened. As we heard some familiar opening notes, Kelly started to freak out, while my brain stopped computing, paralysed with denial. This is the dialogue that ensued:

Kelly: “Arhhgghghg OMG arhghghghgh”
Me: “No, it’s not that.”
Kelly: “Yes it is! Arhghghghghg! Arhghghghgh!”
Me, robot-like: “No, it’s not. It’s “Crazy Beautiful”. 
Kelly: “Noooo! Yeeeeeeeeeeeah! It is! It is! Arhghghgh”
Me: “It’s “Crazy Beautiful!”
Kelly: “Arhghghghghghg!”
Me: “It cannot be. It cann-”
Taylor Hanson: “Watch from a distance, beautiful…”

And so it happened. After years of begging, bitching and campaigning, after practically giving up hope, Hanson played our favourite song, “World’s on Fire”. The closest I’d ever got to hearing it live was during a Yahoo! Livestream of the RNR tour in 2015, when they played it and my Twitter exploded (and I thought it was “Crazy Beautiful”). I love that song so much that I even wrote a blog post about it, and as recent as a few weeks before BTTI, I’d managed to sneak a mention of it into a thread about songs we wanted to hear - opening with “It will never happen but…”. 
Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, it did happen, and I was there.

After this truly epic moment, Kelly and I were on a massive high for the rest of the show: Hanson could have played "The Chicken Dance" and we would have been cool with it. The rest of the setlist was a mix of old and recent songs - some not exactly ‘rock’ but this is Hanson, not Slayer, after all. They threw in a few covers at the end - a medley they also played during the MOE tour that combined “Long Train Running”, “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m A Man”. 

The set wrapped up with another cover, AC/DC’s “(You Shook Me) All Night Long” - a song so full of double-entendres that it should be re-named “You Made Me Cringe (All Night Long)”. I don’t know about you, but I struggle when Hanson sing ‘naughty” lyrics - not because I think that they’re altar boys, but because a large part of the fan base treats them as such. This is the same fan base that had a collective meltdown when Hanson put the word ‘shit’ in a song, after all. In this situation, I go into a sort of out-of-body experience as I watch Hanson fans go wild as Taylor sings "she told me to come but I was already there". Maybe it’s just me.

It was a fantastic show, and the guys were on top form - even Zac, who had visibly recovered from his disappointing solo set. It’s a shame that Hanson had to play what could have arguably been the best concert of the whole event, in such a terrible setting - imagine that same show, with that same setlist and World’s on Fire under the stars? But at least they played, and I’d take a concert in a greenhouse over missing out on my favourite song any time.



["World's on Fire" video by Habitz]

Rock All Night Setlist

Cards Against Humanity



Zac Hanson hosting Cards Against Humanity
Last year’s party games were a lot of fun; they were held on the main stage on the beach, so people could come and go, watch their friends on stage, grab a drink, sit on the sand or on a lounger, while Zac and Isaac ‘hosted’ the games. But because of the ever-inclement weather, this year’s party games had been moved to the buffet. By the time we got there - barely the time to head back to our rooms after the show, freshen up and have a sip of water - the buffet was packed, with chairs crammed in every nook and cranny of the room. 
We eventually found some seats but although we could see, it was hard to hear what was being said on stage. It must have all been hilarious though, judging from the hyena-like hysterical reaction of the people sat behind us. With my eardrums at risk of shattering at regular intervals, and my tinnitus making itself known with a vengeance, I was soon losing the will to live. Despite the fact that ‘adult’ humour is not my kind of thing, last year I’d enjoyed the game; but this year, walled in by howling fans, stone-sober and without an easy way out, I found the whole thing cringeworthy. Put Zac Hanson reading smutty sentences to a room full of inebriated fans: what could possibly go wrong?

This: a fan, who had been called to take part in the game, decided to take off her dress as she walked on stage, treating the whole audience to a view of her underwear, which my friend described as a ‘granny bra”. Zac looked totally unfazed - although I suspect that this fan has blown her chance to get another photo with him ever again.
The fans’ reaction on social media was gold: “at least wear something pretty and lacy” was the overall consensus. Impressing Zac Hanson, arguably the most conservative of the three, by whipping one’s clothes off on stage is probably not the smartest idea anyway, but doing so in unflattering nude underwear is just criminal.


Is a Granny Bra the key to Zac Hanson's heart?

That night I went to bed thinking that this BTTI 2018 was showing signs of being a very different affair from the postcard perfect experience of 2017. What would the next day bring or rather, what else could possibly go wrong? 
Find out in Part 3.