Monday, 23 January 2017

A BTTI Post-Mortem - Part 2: Sketches from the Island

CH-CH-CHANGES

The programme landed in our inboxes in mid-December to a mixed reaction. The schedule was substantially different from previous years: the shows (with the exception of the welcoming show) would start a lot earlier, and two out of three ‘activities with the band’ would take place afterwards. The activities would be Cards Against Humanity and Family Feud - i.e. different kind of party games to what some fans had been hoping for: sack races, egg and spoon races and other such games of the type I’d endured at church group trips in my childhood*. As we already knew, there would only be one ‘craft’ type of activity, tie dye, with a notable change: all three Hanson would take part at the same time.

[*I believe these games, when forced upon an adult in the captive-like conditions of a youth camp or, equally, of all-inclusive vacation, openly contravene the Geneva Convention: Convention I: the Convention prohibits [...] assaults upon personal dignity.]

The news about the games sent shockwaves through the fan base: some hated the idea, some, immediately embraced it and began to prepare, hoping to be picked to play. As for me, I was so relieved by the absence of anything physical and/or potentially humiliating I wanted to break into song, Julie Andrews-style. This BTTI was showing all signs of being more adult-orientated than the previous two and for me, that could only be good news.
The Hills Are Alive

A NEW TAKE ON NORMALITY

There is something really peculiar about staying at a resort on the days immediately prior to BTTI, especially if you’re a returning guest. At your first BTTI you expect a hotel to be full of people from all walks of life, and you find it slightly unsettling when, gradually, fellow fans begin to arrive, and regular guests disappear, one by one, until none are left.

By your second BTTI, you find yourself walking around wondering what those other people are doing there: they’re not Hanson fans. They’re intruders. That’s when it clicks: you have become one of them. ‘Them’ being the hardcore returning islanders - people who return year after year without fail and who are by now a regular part of the event’s tapestry. It’s a gradual process: every year the threads are woven a little tighter around you, until, you too, are a recurring character. It dawns on you that BTTI is The Truman Show meets The Sims, with fans as the unknowing puppets whose strings are skillfully pulled by the canny alliance of your favourite band and a niche tour operator whose job is to make you dependant on their product.

Isle of Sims
You accept all of this as the new status quo.

By your third BTTI, you experience a persistent sense of déjà vu.

You travel for a ridiculous number of hours from your home country until you land on the island. Tired and with your limbs still crumpled from the long flight, you’re whisked away to the resort before you can quite comprehend what is happening. Waiting for you in the semi-familiar surroundings are your friends, who live in different continents from you. While you sign something you haven’t had time to read, a greeter hands you a cup of rum punch which you proceed to down, under the watchful eye of a bellboy with dollar signs in his eyes. Your cup hasn’t even hit the table again that dollar-sign bellboy is marching you and your luggage to your room. Two US Dollars later, you are finally alone in your room. You look around you. Through the fog of jet lag, you acknowledge the presence of someone else’s belongings in the room: they’re your roommate’s - one of the people who greeted you in the lobby only minutes earlier. Her home time zone is 8 hours behind yours and the last time you saw each other was over six months ago. Your brain computes the fact that for the next seven days you’ll be sharing a bed with someone who isn’t your husband. Only a few years ago, the mere thought of the above would have brought you out in cold sweats, but somehow this is now a completely reasonable prospect.

You shed some of the layers you’re wearing, the last reminder of the colder climate you’ve travelled from. You pick up your room card and head back out. By tomorrow, all of this will feel normal.

Check Out Jet Lag on the HNET archives


CRAFTS AGAINST HUMANITY

One of my everlasting memory from my first BTTI in Cancun 2015, was Zac’s second-hand embarrassment when he saw the monstrosity I had painted during our pottery session: a duck sporting the colours of the Brazilian flag.
Monstrosity no. 1

Monstrosity no. 2
Last year’s bracelet-making effort was just as bad if not worse (see above) and so was my tie-dyed t-shirt in 2016. It’s not just that I’m no good at crafts: I absolutely detest the process, and inevitably, as I battle with the wretched task, I feel almost sick with a mixture of frustration and boredom. If only, I often fantasise, BTTI’s activities involved something I could excel at: a spelling competition; a writing task; a real, non-Hanson related quiz in the style of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? I imagine myself on stage, smugly answering question after question correctly until the inevitable happens: Isaac in person hands me the first prize.

You can really see that happen, right? No, neither can I. And so here I am again, subjecting myself to the yearly torture of pretending to do craft with Hanson: every year, as I watch others make beautiful artefacts which they will then show off to an admiring Hanson, I curse the moment I signed up for this and contemplate a subversive move, like Wednesday Addams at the Thanksgiving play. I imagine dumping a bucket of red paint, Carrie-style, on the head of the fan whose perfectly dyed shirt Isaac is currently admiring. I consider the possibility of locating and setting off the fire alarm - always the movies’ perfect get-out device - until I remember that I’m on a beach and other than a couple of fold-out tables, there’s nothing to burn down.

Grudgingly, I resign myself to the inevitable and attempt the task at hand. A woman in the entertainment team takes pity on me and takes over, explaining the process step by step. I feign interest but all the while I’m scanning the beach for Hanson sightings through my peripheral vision. Our session is the first of the week and nobody seems to have a clue as to what is going on. Hanson, who have appeared late only to then hide with behind a row of tables, are now surrounded by selfie hunters. Unlike last year, when every group had their own table, we are all moving alongside different ‘stations’ and therefore there’s no structure on how Hanson will interact with us or check on our ‘progress’.

I look at my t-shirt, skillfully dyed by my new Jamaican best friend: it looks perfect, other than for the ghastly colour combination my saviour has picked: turquoise and red. Later, when fully dry, the red will take an ugly shade of rusty brown, like dried up blood.
This is not going very well, I admit to myself; by now, my face feels hot and red despite my SPF 50 and wide brim hat. It occurs to me that maybe putting an alcohol-based makeup setting spray on my face earlier was a very bad idea which must have made my skin even more photo-sensitive than usual.
Taylor is surrounded. Even his aviator sunglasses can’t hide the look of deer trapped in headlights on his face. Zac, as usual, is followed around by women armed with cameras. And then there’s Isaac, dressed head to toe in black under the relentless sun. I don’t know if I should be happy or sad to notice that he has the most personal space around him.

What am I even doing here, I ask myself. This is not what being the fan of a band is about. Finally, my inner Cartman voice speaks: screw you guys, I'm going home.


*For the sake of accurate reporting, I need to point out that I did manage to ‘interact’ with Isaac and Zac briefly during the session; both encounters have however been omitted from my account for dramatic purposes.

BREAKING THE SPACE AND TIME CONTINUUM

With two out of three activities now taking place at night, we had a lot more free time during the day to enjoy the beach and the resort. On the downside, with the shows now starting earlier, anyone planning to camp out would need to get there in the early afternoon and stay put after the solo sets. It wasn’t my concern: I did a lot of sitting on the sand last year, and although that method had got me good spots for the shows, it had also meant that I’d missed out on everything else.  As much as I like to get a good view of the stage, this year I felt that I’d spent too much money just to leave butt prints on the sand.

So what did I do with all that extra time this year? I have no idea: I still feel that I didn’t get anywhere near enough time in the water, or propping up a (swim-up) bar. I had an extremely expensive but totally worth it massage; my roommate emotionally blackmailed me into going to a ‘dolphin encounter’; I mixed with different groups of friends and met a lot of new people. But it all happened so quickly that now all I can remember is a sped-up blur, and don’t even ask me about the shows: I know I wrote a blog post about them but I am now wondering, was I even there?

Time is a human construct, apparently

IT’S YOUR TIME TO PLAY

The after shows at my previous two BTTIs have always been a bit of an anticlimax for me: shows ended close to midnight and there was always precious little to do both in Cancun and at the current resort. One of the most obvious design flaws at the Jewel is that the bar only has a handful of seats; if you want to relax somewhere and chat with your friends, there’s only the rather uninspiring lobby or a sunlounger on the beach in pitch darkness. So I was very glad to have the games to decompress after the high of a show, with the added bonus that the two pop-up bars on either side of the beach would be open for the duration of the events.

There are around 400 people at BTTI so I knew from the outset that the chances of being picked to go and ‘play’ on stage on either games night were slim. And sure enough, as they read out the numbers on our passes, mine didn’t come up (although once or twice it got annoyingly close). But then again, last year’s “Trivia with Isaac” offered even fewer chances, and so did his cocktail-making session back in 2015. At least this time more people got a chance - and some of them were my friends. You really can do worse than standing on a beach with a drink, watching your friends play games with Hanson, and personally I found both nights a massive improvement on previous years, when we’d all sit like well-behaved convent girls and politely clap at regular intervals.

Unless they happen to live on Mars, by now everyone in the fan base will know that Zac picked a great winning answer to ‘How did I lose my virginity?’ (‘my balls on your face’) [In fact, I am sure it’s probably someone’s ringtone by now]. It was a little disappointing, though, when the question came up, to hear some people yell ‘on my wedding night’. These ladies possibly forgot the fact that Zac had survived a Howard Stern show and he wasn’t going to be rattled by a group of rowdy fans. Or maybe they were just drunk. Still - the heckling was in really poor taste and for a brief moment I felt embarrassment for just being there.

Mercifully, Family Feud offered no cringeworthy moments: quite the opposite, in fact. The highlight of the whole night for me was when Isaac, after my roommate chastised him for not adhering to the game’s rules, said ‘I love her’ and from that moment on, referred to my friend as his girlfriend. It was her birthday, and she’s an Isaac girl. It was as if the stars and planets had aligned to make her birthday extra special (and earlier in the day, she’d got to kiss a dolphin named Zeus).

If I ever had one gripe with the overall BTTI experience, it’s always been its slight church summer camp-like feel: partly because of the predominantly female participants, partly due to the craft activities, but also because bars always shut ridiculously early at this kind of resort. This year I tried the ‘nightclub’ at the Jewel but it was so dark at first I couldn’t even see the bartender. He eventually emerged, wraith-like, pouring me a drink before disappearing back into the shadows again. It was so ridiculously bad that after ten minutes we all left and went to sit outside with our feet in the jacuzzi - something infinitely more rock’n’roll. But overall, BTTI 2017 had a better nightlife and a more adult vibe: okay, it wasn’t exactly Burning Man-style debauchery but at least it didn’t feel like you were encouraged to be in bed by midnight to attend 9:00 AM Mass.

Isaac hosting

PARTY HARD

Much has been said in previous years about Taylor’s ‘dance parties’ and, let’s face it, they’re never going to be real club nights: the crowd is made up pretty much entirely of women, and a large part of them are glued to the stage like barnacles on the hull of a ship, dreamingly gazing at Taylor’s beauty. The closest I’d experienced to a real club night was last year’s dance party at the Vanguard in Tulsa, and that was largely due to the venue and a particularly fast and friendly service at the bar.

There is something faintly ridiculous about an ‘afterparty’ being held in the buffet room of an all-inclusive resort. At dinner time, talented local performers bust their butts on the small stage to the diners’ almost complete indifference (that same week I watched a singer belt out a goosebump inducing cover of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ and nobody clapped). So it’s frankly bizarre to see Taylor Hanson doing his D.J. act, cans over his ears, only a few feet away from the omelette station. This year, however, I unlocked the secret of Afterparty Fun: just drink more. It should have been obvious but the queues for the bar have always been my downfall at BTTI. Not this year: a combination of asking for a quick-to-prepare drink (Appleton and Coke) and a dollar to the bartender meant that I never had to wait long for my drink.

DJ Taylor
In all honesty, I don’t know if a teetotaller would be able to enjoy one of BTTI’s afterparties: you need to really be able to suspend your sense of ridicule and ignore the fact that you’re dressed up to party with a bunch of other girls, in a buffet, while Taylor Hanson is probably looking at the crowd and thinking ‘suckers, they paid almost $2,000 for this!’. You need to be at least mildly inebriated to forget all of that, but if you are, then, as I discovered this year, it can be actually tolerable and almost fun.

Had I not been slightly under the influence, I doubt I would have thought 'screw it' as I pushed my way to the bar, where Isaac was talking to a gaggle of fans; and only thanks to good ole  Dutch courage was I happy to barge into the conversation and, after complimenting my favourite Hanson for a great show, felt completely at ease with jabbing a finger at him and telling him “you’ve got to stop taking all my money!”

So don your party frock, get some drinks in you, find some fun people who dance like they don’t care and guess what? Even Taylor’s afterparty can be fun. And if you manage to get a laugh out Isaac Hanson in the process, that’s a bonus.
Yes, I thought I was funny, too


PICTURE IMPERFECT

BTTI pictures day is a big day in the BTTI schedule. That photo is one of the unique selling points of the BTTI package: when else do you get a photo with just yourself and all three Hanson? Exactly.
So every year I put some reasonable effort into the photo. I pick a nice dress and try to look my best. But I’m not photogenic to say the least, and inevitably I end up hating the photos we’re finally sent, months later. This year, once again, I thought I was fully prepared for pictures. I had a dress, and a hairdresser appointment at my friend’s room: she had done my hair in Tulsa and I knew she could make a scarecrow look good. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, everything else. That was the morning when I completely forgot how to put makeup on, butchering my eyebrows first and ending up with two slugs drawn over my eyes. Then I screwed up my eyeshadow so badly that I looked as if I’d just been punched. It could have all turned into disaster had it not been for my friend. In the tone people use to talk someone out of jumping off a bridge, she told me to bring my makeup kit to her room and she would fix it, and do my hair afterwards. Some forty-five minutes later I finally emerged, completely transformed. I looked in the mirror and thought, is that me? My friend had to kick me out of her room to stop me from bowing with gratitude, and the next thing I knew, I was in line for pictures.

For some reason, the weather always conspires to make pictures day the hottest day of the week, and this year was no exception. Mercifully, they changed the location from last year and we were at least able to queue up in the shade, watching as everybody took their turn to pose with the guys. I’ve met the guys a few times before and I’m not exactly scared of talking to them; but it’s having my picture taken - and in front of so many people too - that makes me break into cold sweats. It’s a very contrived situation to say the least.

And then, once again for the second consecutive year, we were presented with the same problem: Isaac was the first one in line to greet us from where we were queuing: every Isaac girl’s nightmare, because it inevitably involves convoluted manoeuvres to be next to him in the picture. After a ninja-like feign in 2015, I totally bottled it in the following year and ended up next to Taylor and Zac. But this year, I was determined to get my money’s worth and pose next to my favourite brother. So I decided on the most transparent of tactics: to make a beeline for Taylor, despite the fact that he was last in the line-up, and work my way backwards. Did it work? Yes. But what I didn’t realise was that, in the heat of the moment, anxious to stick to my plan, I ran. Yes, I ran. It’s all on video: you can see Isaac kind of moving to shake my hand while I literally leg it and go to Taylor instead.

And there’s BTTI pictures, summed up: at the last minute, something will happen that will make me kick myself for the rest of the year. You had one job.
Ah well. There’s always 2018.

This picture cost me about...no, never mind.


BTTI 2017 SUMMED UP

Highlight Reel

- Walking on marshmallow at the Luminous Lagoon
- Kissing a dolphin called Zeus 
- Hair & Makeup by Suze ™
- Dancing to a Bob Marley cover band with ‘Captain Crazy’ at Nine Miles
- Making Isaac laugh out loud at the bar
- All the shows
- The LED flower headbands
- A Jamaican lady telling me she appreciated my Rasta themed dress
- My friends, who are too many to be mentioned here. 
- “Debriefing” with Kasey until 4:00 AM
- Getting some very good news I didn’t expect.
- Apparently running up to Kaitlin and telling her: "Kait, I'm gonna sell a kidney so I can come back!" and having no memory of this whatsoever.

On the Cutting Room Floor

- Running for my picture
- Tie dye
- A four-day long migraine that lasted until the first day of the event
- The stomach churning long drive to Nine Miles...and back
- Those two shots of neat gin ...blame Kaitlin
- Agreeing to be filmed without makeup on
- Real life


BTTI is a yearly Hanson.net event in partnership with Island Gigs.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

A BTTI 2017 Post-Mortem - Part 1: Dissecting the Shows

It was only going to be a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience: the solo sets had sold it to me, and besides, I’d never seen Hanson play with the full band. A one-off. Yes, it was only going to be a one-off.

Well, that was 2015. On a grey and wet British New Year’s Day, I boarded a Jamaica-bound flight, ready to do it all again for the third time in 2017.

Those who have read my blog posts from BTTI 2016 might remember that I wasn’t exactly awestruck by last year’s event: I’d found the shows lacking something, not to mention I'd been left seriously disappointed by Isaac’s solo set (for an Isaac ‘girl’, this is a serious matter). Aside from having fallen in love with Jamaica, I guess my mixed feelings about 2016 were part of the reason for wanting to go back: I had such fantastic memories of the 2015 shows in Cancun that I wanted another taste of that experience. I knew BTTI was more than a holiday with friends: it was a chance for me, as a European fan, to load up on Hanson concerts in between the ever infrequent, stripped down, ‘on a shoestring’ European tours.


Let me tell you right away: this year’s shows were awesome. Well, as close to awesome as they could be considering the technical problems that continued to crop up for the whole week. But awesome nonetheless. Read on to know more - it's time to nerd out.

NIGHT 1 - THE ROCK SHOW





The first show was a rock themed set that included regular crowd pleasers like ‘Fired up’ and often requested but rarely played tracks like ‘Ugly Truth’. As it seems to be now custom at BTTI, unforeseen events inspired an impromptu song and ‘I’m Tuning’ was born, joining the BTTI Hall of Fame with other ‘classics’ like ‘Sand in my Crevice’ (2015)  and ‘I’m not Ready’ (2016). Those moments make shows really fun and strangely, I’ve not seen at anything like that happen at our European shows; I wonder if it’s because Hanson are more relaxed when they have Andrew and Demetrius around them?

A rock-themed Hanson show is still going to be a little on the soft side - after all, Hanson ain’t Slayer- but there was no hiding the fact that all songs were uptempo: not a slow ballad in sight (a good thing, in my book). I loved hearing ‘Great Divide’ again, and I will never, ever tire of ‘Already Home’ (one of my Top 3 Hanson songs of all time). “Desire” is one of my favourite U2 songs and one of Hanson’s best covers, so it was great to rock out to my new favourite band covering my old favourite band, despite the fact that the old-time U2 fan in me could not help notice that Taylor got the lyrics wrong once or twice (I forgave him). The set ended with another cover - the Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” - a song which always sends the Zac girls crazy. I’m not a fan of that song but it’s still pretty impressive to see how Zac morphs from his usual Hanson persona into a glam rock God - albeit one in accountant’s trousers instead of spandex leggings.

My verdict about the first show? Great energy, a great setlist and the guys were in top form. If I had to really nitpick, I’d say that there weren’t enough Isaac leads but - are there, ever?

DAY 2 - ISAAC SOLO SET




Setlist

I had a feeling that Isaac would not allow for a repeat of his 2016 meltdown. The fact that his solo set was the first in the week was itself a promising sign (you can guess the conversations at the planning stage: “Ike, isn’t it best if you do it first, then you can drink for the rest of the week…”). He opened with ‘River’ and continued with ‘Smile’, both tracks now standard features of Isaac’s BTTI solo sets. Next was ‘Two Tears’ - another oldie which, in all honesty, I find cute enough but I’d much rather hear Isaac use his voice on more recent songs. He then revisited BTTI 2016 with “A Day Without You” which he had played for the first time last year; during ‘So Lovely’ after the line ‘got a job in immigration’ Isaac quipped ‘that sounds like a really depressing job’  (I’ve always questioned that line: seriously, Hanson, what were you thinking?). 

After a performance of ‘Next Train’, things took a sombre tone. Isaac introduced ‘Call Me’ explaining that it had originally been written for a friend who had received bad news, and in the past year, that same friend had died of cancer. At that point, people behind me began to cry - not just weeping but sobbing loudly. I found myself in a strange mental space: despite having lost both my parents to cancer in the last year or so, and despite the emotion-laden performance that was taking place right in front of me, I didn’t feel sad, nor did I shed a single tear. I guess I’ve had enough sadness lately to last me a lifetime, and I just wanted to enjoy the show.

In fact, I was soon going to be very, very happy. Earlier in the day, during tie dye, I'd plucked the courage to walk up to Isaac and ask him if he could, by any chance, play ‘Deeper’ - the song, as I explained, that had introduced me to Hanson and which I had only heard once at BTTI 2015. Isaac had made a face as if he would consider it, saying that he might be able to play it during his solo set. But now song after song went by and I was losing hope, resigning myself to the fact that even Isaac Hanson can’t fulfil every fan request. Then finally I heard those familiar chords, introducing the very song which, back in 2005, gave off a spark that refused to die out until seven years later when, by pure accident, someone mentioned Hanson to me and ...the rest is history.

Had we not already been standing, the set would have ended with a standing ovation after Isaac performed a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which included a short but heart wrenching transition into the traditional hymn “Amazing Grace”. I’m fan of Leonard Cohen rather than of that particular song, and I find it irksome when people only know it as ‘the song from Shrek’ without knowing anything about the man who actually wrote it, and I think it’s one of those songs that have been (badly) covered to death. But even I had to make an exception - Isaac did it justice, and I couldn’t help but admire his courage for tackling such a musical totem.

Without a doubt, with BTTI 2017 Isaac got his groove back, delivering a set which will go down in Hanson history for its emotionally charged performance - and rightly so. As for me though - well, Isaac played my song: could it get any better?

NIGHT 2 - THE ACOUSTIC SHOW




Setlist

The second show had an Acoustic theme, which made for a concert very much like the ones we get in Europe: just Hanson, no backing band and a much more stripped down sound. It started off well: I got a chance to hear them play ‘Stories’, one of the few ‘early Hanson’ songs I really like. “Sure About It” and “Wish That I Was There” are two songs I somehow always mix-up in my head; they have a very similar sound and vibe and they sound great acoustic. I was in luck that night, as the guys played both. 

The set contained a few Hanson classics, like ‘Lucy’ (one of my Top 3 Least Favourite Hanson songs) and ‘Weird’, which always sounds good acoustic. “For Your Love” took me back to the Anthem World Tour and as for “Musical Ride”, every time I hear it live I ‘get it’ a little more. “Broken Angel” sounds infinitely better these days than in the recorded version from 2004 and Zac gave us a poignant and appropriately nuanced performance of this deceptively simple song while Taylor and Isaac sang harmonies - Isaac looking totally committed to the song in his characteristic ‘priest’ pose with his hands folded in front of him.


I could say that I was surprised by the choice of  final song of the show - ‘With You in Your Dreams’. But after Isaac’s set, I wasn’t: it was clear that they had chosen that song for personal reasons: it wasn’t for us, it was for them. Isaac looked as he was struggling to keep it together for the entire song, and so did some of the fans in the audience (Holly describes her reaction to that song in her blog The Traveling Fan). But it was my own reaction which surprised me more than anything else. You might remember a blog post I wrote a few months ago, in which I worried about how I’d react to that song after losing both my parents. Would it be too much? Would I have to leave the beach in floods of tears? Well, none of that happened. Sure, to hear ‘that song’ was emotionally stirring but on that beach, with my friends around me and my favourite band on stage, just like it happened during Isaac’s set, I wasn’t sad. Maybe the same song will hit me at another time - those who have experienced grief will know how triggers lurk in the most unlikely places, ready to pounce on you when you’re weak and unprepared. But there’s always time to cry, later, another day. 

DAY 3 - TAYLOR SOLO SHOW


Setlist

Let’s talk about Taylor Hanson, shall we? But where do we start? Taylor is a strange animal. Onstage with his brothers, even behind his piano, he’s the ultimate frontman. He doesn’t just sing, he kind of draws the audience in in a way that I’ve never experienced with any other band, involving people at the back by the mixing desk as much as the front row. Watching Taylor Hanson perform is a bit like gambling in a Vegas casino floor: with no clocks anywhere, you leave two hours later, dazed, dazzled and considerably poorer. (On reflection, doesn’t that just sum up our life as Hanson fans?)

When Taylor plays a solo set, however, things are a little different. At least, they used to be: the previous two solo sets I’d seen were ...good. Polished. His set at BTTI 2016 was considerably shorter than Zac’s and Isaac’. Great songs, great voice, everything is usually perfect - because Taylor is the consummate professional but I’ve always found his solo performance a little soulless; as if, without his brothers acting as sidekicks, Taylor is just Taylor rather than ‘Taylor Hanson’.

But this year’s set was different. Taylor seemed more relaxed playing his own; he joked and talked with the audience as he introduced each song and even sang a medley of different version of ‘Happy Birthday’ for the birthday people in the audience.  He put soul into “I Will Come to You’ and ‘Save Me’ - songs which I usually find too boyband-like for my liking. Performed with just voice and piano on a tropical beach, both songs acquired a depth I’d never perceived before. (I will still skip the original versions).

However different everyone’s taste, I’m sure we’ll all agree on the set’s highlight: an incredibly rare performance of ‘Breaktown’. After the first few yells of recognition, you couldn’t hear a pin drop.
If you are ever in doubt that Hanson ‘listens’ to their fans, this should convince you once and for all: ‘Breaktown’ is constantly mentioned on the forums (alongside other rarely played songs like ‘World on Fire’). It felt like a special gift to all of us there, and I truly hope that the band will post a video of the performance on the website for those who could not be in Jamaica.


The set ended with ‘Follow Your Lead’, one of those Walk-era songs that manage to uplift, inspire and heal at the same time. I left thinking that that was by far the best Taylor solo set I’d seen so far.

DAY 4 - ZAC SOLO SHOW




Zac’s solo set last year was a huge improvement on 2015, and this year he surpassed himself once more. Although it wasn’t the longest of sets, a lot of the time was taken up by Zac introducing each song and explaining what the lyrics were about. As someone who loves to nerd out to song lyrics, I was in heaven.

The set started with “Chasing Down My Dreams” a little played track from the 2012 'No Sleep For Banditos' EP - (incidentally, the first physical CD of Hanson music I ever owned). It sounded better live than in the EP, in part because I find Zac’s peculiar enunciation of ‘chasing/chess-ing’ in the recorded version really distracting. The next song, however, was what I’d been hoping for. A couple of days earlier during tie dye, after asking Isaac to play “Deeper” I’d also asked Zac if there was any chance of him playing “Fire on the Mountain” that week. He said “sure” without any hesitation, but...three days had passed and quite frankly, I didn’t expect him to remember.  But then I heard those first notes, followed by ”somebody asked for this song”: yes, it was “Fire on the Mountain”. 

“I’d kind of like to talk about what this song is about but it’s like way too deep for the beach” Zac said, proceeding to actually delve into what the song is about (life, basically - you can watch the entire performance here)

There were other gems in the set, including ‘No Sleep for Banditos’, ‘What Are We Fighting For’ and ‘Siren’s Call’ - the lyrics of which Zac explained in depth during the introduction. For those who have watched the various ‘making of’ EPs, it’s easy sometimes to assume that Hanson put together lyrics because of how certain words sound together rather than their meaning. So, I was surprised to find out that Siren’s Call was about dealing with depression and how focussing on others will stop you from giving in to those dark, morbid thoughts. You know how I’ve often accused Hanson of writing ‘fridge magnet poetry’ lyrics for some of their EP songs? Erm..ok. I might have to take it all back (for now).

A peculiar choice for a solo, semi-acoustic set was the inclusion of ‘Do You Believe in Love?’ from the Play EP; it was a good effort but it didn’t really showcase the song at its best without Zac’s breakneck speed drums. Still, you have to admire Hanson for taking risks with their songs (remember Isaac’s experimental solo performance of “Grace Unknown” on the electric guitar at BTTI 2016?). 
One thing that became clear at this BTTI is that even Hanson have favourite songs: for the third year in a row Zac sang ‘Bittersweet’ - a song dedicated to his wife Kate. It’s a sweet, moving song which however belongs in the ‘can’t listen to’ category for me because of its lyrics:

Looking forward to growing old and watching you turn grey
And if you don’t mind I would like to go first
Because without you I wouldn’t live a day

Luckily, the set ended on a higher note with “Get So Low”, which some of us still refer to “The Shit Song” because of the uproar it caused among some particularly conservative fans back in 2013 when it emerged that it contained the word ‘shit’ (personally, I truly enjoyed hearing him read out the word ‘motherfucker’ during “Cards Against Humanity”). Although the piano certainly got a good bashing (this is a song in which Zac clearly mistakes the keyboard for a drumset), ‘Get So Low’ isn’t one of Hanson’s strongest songs to say the least, and I can see why it didn’t make it into ‘Anthem’ - nothing to do with its controversial ‘s’ word.

Zac’s was the last solo set of this BTTI and the moment it finished, I knew that it would be very hard to decide which one I’d enjoyed the most. If you need one reason to go to BTTI, do it for the solo sets (just don’t blame me if you then get addicted to the whole thing).

DAY 4 - EP SONGS





On the night of the final show I had the best spot, 4th or 5th row, Isaac’s side (of course). I had great people around me and a really good view of the stage. When Isaac kicked off the games with “Best of Times”, by now a kind of semi-official BTTI anthem, I just knew that we were in for a great night. We knew it was going to be an EP songs themed set and the choice of songs didn’t disappoint, together with four Isaac leads (Best of Times, Time Baby Take It, Leave the Lights On and Freak Out). As the night went on, it just got better and better. 
I love seeing Hanson play guitar together, and that’s exactly how the band performed ‘On and On’ and ‘On The Road’ - both among my favourite Hanson songs. I’d only heard the latter live once, back at BTTI 2015.
Unfortunately, the set was plagued by technical problems which were obviously bothering the guys - especially Taylor (who in these occasions looks as if every nerve ending of his body is plugged into a nuclear reactor which you know is about to explode at any minute). There were a few forgotten lyrics - one of my pet hates. A friend of mine said that once at a Matt Nathanson show she noticed that he kept a binder with lyrics by his feet and leafed through it before certain songs. I personally wouldn’t have a problem if the guys did that: Hanson have a huge song catalogue and it’s understandable if they forget the lyrics to an obscure Members Kit song they wrote 15 years ago. However I feel less forgiving when Taylor forgets the lyrics of ‘Feeling Alive’, which was released just over 6 months ago. None of the above issues spoiled my experience though: it was a fantastic set and a fantastic conclusion of an incredible week. It would take too long to discuss every choice of song individually, but off the top of my head….

...I was right about my prediction that ‘Freak Out’, a song I usually skip, would be great live (hands up in the air in the chorus!); ‘Feeling Alive’ was uplifting and moving; you can't not want to dance to ‘Dance Like You Don’t Care’, and ‘No Rest for The Weary’ deserves to become a Hanson classic, period. The final three songs were ‘regular’ Hanson songs, and we did the ‘round and round’ finger dance to ‘Where’s the Love',  jumped to ‘If Only’ and danced to ‘Give a Little’ - another song I only really enjoy live. Then, the inevitable closing, and guest acts Andrew Ripp and John Fullbright joined Hanson onstage for the traditional rendition of ‘Back to the Island’. That’s always a bittersweet moment of the event for me - on one hand, I love that song and I love to see the band performing it, but on the other hand...you know that the last show is well and truly over. 

I’ve only been a Hanson fan since 2012, and compared to some of the veterans out there, I haven’t seen many shows - a handful of ‘regular’ shows in Europe, three BTTIs and one Hanson Day show. So you will have to excuse me if my perception is not as sophisticated as others’; I don’t have a mental catalogue of every single Hanson song I’ve ever seen performed and I’ve only seen a grand total of 16 ‘full’ Hanson shows (not counting solo sets). But of those 16, I’ d single out that last show at BTTI 2017 as the best one: the energy, the vibe, the setlist, the location - it was so good that even the many technical problems couldn’t ruin it. Is this a fair assessment of the show, or was it just a combination of things - the friends, the music, a night sky with so many stars you would not believe it; having survived the worst year of my life with my sanity intact? 
But does it matter? The final BTTI 2017 was a show I’ll never forget: “that is all Ye know on earth, and all Ye need to know.*”



*John Keats

Stay tuned for Part 2

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Play or Skip? A very personal review of Hanson's new EP


The Cover of Play - credit to HNET





a.k.a. "The One Whose Title Is Perilously Close to Another Song’s"

This is a Zac song, and Zac songs always seem to attract rave reviews. I get it - he’s got the hair, the moves, he hits all the high notes. Only last year Hanson recorded a cover of the Darkness’ I Believe in a Thing Called Love for the Roots & Rock'n'Roll EP and although I’ve never been a fan of that song, I have to admit that Zac nailed the challenging vocals, gaining the approval of none other than Justin Hawkins himself.


DYBIL is half Darkness, half Queen. It doesn’t accurately represent Hanson as a songwriting band but it speaks miles of their fun, devil-may-care attitude: (Hey you guys, this year we want to channel our inner glam-rock gods! Sorry if it’s not your thing!). It’s also a pretty good fun to hear live, and watching Zac drum at break-neck speed and sing at the same time is a show within the show.


I thought this song would be a ‘skip’ for me but since it was pre-released it has grown on me. It will never be a favourite but to paraphrase a friend, I won’t have to get out of the shower to skip it.


Play or Skip? Mostly play.




a.k.a. “Not The Chic Song”


As some of you already know, Isaac is my favourite Hanson (yes, we all have a favourite and those claim not to, are either lying or confused. I suggest some serious soul-searching).
As every fan knows, Isaac leads are few and far between - one per album or EP, if you’re lucky. Because of their scarcity, and the demand that this causes, I am convinced that the band use Isaac leads as bargaining chips, a carrot to dangle in front of us to make us give them more money even more money. They like to watch us squirm. Why would they otherwise leave Grace Unknown out of the making of Inside the Box, causing widespread panic in the fanbase? And why didn't they play this one in Tulsa? I'm telling you: they like to keep us hanging.


I first heard Freak Out from the short preview clip that posted in the store. It didn't sound my kind of thing. Later on, the ‘Making of’ stream half-confirmed my fears, and yet, I still tried to keep an open mind. But now, with the finished product playing through the speakers, I feel like weeping into my For Your Love t-shirt.


My first problem with this song starts with the fact that it’s titled like a very famous song with a chorus that says ’Freak out!’. Admittedly, that’s where the similarities stop, but I can’t listen to Isaac say Freak Out without automatically adding “Le Freak, c'est Chic” in my head. What is it with Hanson writing song titles that sound a lot like other (more famous) songs? (Answers on a tweet to @asphodelia).


Anyway. The opening is promising enough, with a badass groove that could potentially turn into a decent rock song, but instead, the chorus leads into some kind of predictable hash of anything you’ve heard before with a heavy 80’s influence - a kind of Robert Palmer-lite, although friends have also heard echoes of Huey Lewis and Roxette respectively.

When it comes to the lyrics, I find it hard to be impressed by yet another song about letting loose at the weekend, especially when the people who wrote it are not exactly Springsteen-style blue-collar characters in need to blow off some steam after a hard week at the steel factory.


Take off that ball and chain
Turn off your weekday brain
Let me hear you sing
Let me hear you scream
Freak out


If there’s one positive thing I can say about this song, is that I’m almost certain that it will sound great live. The Old Man will strut his stuff (hopefully it won’t make my evening rough) and we’ll all freak out and everything will be just dandy. Therefore, if in just under three months’ time from now you spot me in a BTTI video freaking out to Freak Out, please remember the disclaimer you’ve just read.


Play or Skip? Skip.



a.k.a "You Can’t Stop Us Reprise"

Taylor is getting all the best leads lately - something that drove me to switching teams for a good 15 minutes in the last 24 hours (in the end, I had to give in: I will always side with the underdog, i.e. Isaac). But seriously, can you blame me? From the opening guitar riff, you know that this is going to be a crowd pleaser: vaguely rebellious lyrics, Taylor in fight mode, and an infectious ‘na-na-na’ to sing along to. Wait, doesn't this sound like another Hanson song? Yes it does.


Let us compare the lyrics of Man on Top with You Can't Stop Us Now:


MoT
You're looking down
from your penthouse castle
Flaunting your dimes
hoping I will unravel

YCSUN
Out on the corner on your soapbox looking down
Waving your flag like this is a battle ground


See what I mean?

It’s hard not to interpret every ‘Hanson battle cry song’, as a great big “F*** YOU” to the band’s detractors and rivals, not to mention the stock Hanson Bogeyman, Jeff Fenster. Thematically, YCSUN and MOT are very close:


MoT


ain't no heavy
but my eye's on the prize
Jump in the ring and you're in
for a surprise


YCSUN


Your fancy words try to cut me down to size
Hey mister, mister, you're in for a big surprise


If the lyrics are beginning to sound a little too déjà vu for me these days, I still can’t help liking this song. The “Hanson against the rest of the world” theme lends itself perfectly to this kind of fist-pumping, old-school, road-trip-with-Sam-and-Dean type of rock. I predict that there will be a lot of Taylor-led jumping to this one in the next tour, so, ladies, make sure your bras are up to the job - that’s all I’m saying on this one.


Play or Skip? Play.



a.k.a. "Three Songs for the Price of One"

I remember liking this song a lot when I heard it in Tulsa last May, but what I didn’t remember was the decidedly ‘sitcom song’ feel of the piano and verse. It’s as if there are three different songs going on here:


#1 - Sitcom Song
#2 - Uplifting song (chorus)
#3 - Rallying the Troops -(crowd participation).

Part 3 is my favourite: this is Zac doing his Aragorn Battle Speech at the Black Gate in The Return of the King, riding his white horse up and down to an army of fans; “A day may come when the courage of men fails...but it is not this day!”. Cue fans following Hanson into Mordor (which could be a metaphor of the black hole into which we willingly step when we hand over our time, social life and above all, money, in the pursuit of Hanson).


My opinion hasn’t changed too drastically since Tulsa - I like the song’s uplifting feel, the simple celebration of joy per se. The choir, however, works only in part, possibly due to the fact that 99% of the audience in Tulsa was female, and as a result we sound like a children's choir. It's all bit "Annie"-like: Hanson & Special Guests: The Tulsan Orphanage.


On a final note - am I the only who finds Zac’s Michael Jackson-style ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ really out of place? Seriously, if you make sex sounds before singing a lyric about making ‘a joyful noise’, you’re kind of undermining the meaning of the song: are we talking about a particular kind of ‘joyful noise’? Maybe it’s best if we leave it at that.

Play or Skip? Play




a.k.a. “Don’t Call Me Señorita”


This is the song that had left the strongest impression on me in Tulsa: Taylor’s performance was different to what I’ve seen so far in the handful of shows I’ve been to. I loved his unusual delivery of certain lines, half-spoken, half-sung, heavy with melodrama - it was Hanson cabaret, and I was there to witness it.


Feeling Alive is a strange beast: part theatre, part epic, part church choir. As one of the members of the aforementioned Tulsan Orphanage, it’s hard to stay detached when listening to this song and not think of the experience of actually being there. All round, the recording of that song was one of those band/fan moments that don’t happen very often - and as a result, the song has certain magic feel to it, a secret alchemy I can’t quite figure out and which makes me want to surrender all my objectivity.


Don’t get me wrong: like Joyful Noise, Feeling Alive isn’t perfect. There’s too much going on at times - strings, bells, stomps, choir, and apparently random lyrics complete with made-up words, all nicely gift-wrapped in the obligatory uplifting chorus. But who am I to judge if Taylor Hanson asks me not to call him señorita one moment, only to order me to lift my hands up high high and reach up to the sky the next? I’ll have to suspend my disbelief for four minutes and pretend that it all makes perfect sense.


Play or Skip? Play


The Final Verdict


According to Hanson, Play is supposed to be the ‘other side’ of Loud, so it seems unfair to judge it as a standalone record. Loud was a welcome change from the last two members EPs, with much stronger songs and a more cohesive sound.


In Play’s case, the sound is almost too homogenous, with three songs that sound very much alike - Man on Top, Joyful Noise and Feeling Alive - and I can’t help thinking that decision to mix the ‘choir’ to the studio songs is what causes it. I understand why Hanson did it - involving your fans in a record like this is a really, really nice thing to do. But would a non-fan get this? Is Play the kind of record that you’d try and get people to listen to? Probably not: there are better examples of what the band can do, and if you can bypass the Fanson Police and sneak a copy of the Sound of Light EP to your friends, you might, just might, finally manage to convert them.


Play is fun, uplifting record, with five songs that will no doubt sound great on stage: let's hope we all get a chance to hear them in the next tour.
The Tulsan Orphanage Choir
From the PDF inner sleeve notes - credit to HNET