It’s possible that failing to sustain the megawatt success they experienced right out the gate with 1997′s inescapable “MMMBop” was the best thing that could have happened to Hanson. Their omnipresence provided them with access to the very large, very fickle audience typical of teen-pop, and Hanson proceeded (intentionally or not) to winnow that pool down the modest, unfathomably loyal audience typical of cult artists. More than two decades on, as the three brothers took the House of Blues stage on Friday, the ardor of their fans remained largely undimmed, albeit on a far more manageable — and likely less crazymaking — scale.
The material’s uncommon consistency surely helped. There was no noticeable creakiness as Hanson ventured further from either their commercial peak or current maturity; as-yet-unreleased songs like “Annalie” (whose polyrhythms and world-folky acoustic sophistication recalled Paul Simon, with sparkling harmonies as an added bonus) sat comfortably side-by-side with the uplift of 2000′s “This Time Around.” And it wasn’t simply that they’d maintained quality control over the years; the honed popcraft behind numbers like the floating “A Minute Without You” was always there, right from the start.
The band’s originals also sounded great next to the holiday songs scattered throughout; given the season and the two Christmas albums to their name, it was no surprise that Hanson dug liberally into both. With drummer Zac Hanson on lead for “What Christmas Means To Me,” the notes practically bounced off of Taylor Hanson’s piano, and “Little Saint Nick” offered a little more four-on-the-floor chug than the Beach Boys’ original. And “Winter Wonderland” had both a New Orleans roll and a guitar pulling things forward, generating tension.
Something else that remained consistent was the music’s emotional tenor, which was bright and cheery throughout, never not upbeat. Well, not never: It took 11 songs before guitarist Isaac Hanson offered the first glimpse of sadness and anguish in his solo acoustic “Hand In Hand,” and Taylor followed by leaving enough of the piano notes of “A Song to Sing” hanging to give it an air of melancholy.
But those were the only oases of shadow in an otherwise sunny set, appearing only when the brothers were by their lonesome. Even a kissoff like "Thinking 'Bout Somethin'" had a churchy ebullience to it. "Sometimes it's good to leave on a high," said Taylor near the end. As if Hanson ever left any other option.
Fronted by Mac Hanson (of the Hanson Hansons) with a Jack Black glint of mad power in his eyes, openers Joshua & The Holy Rollers went adrift when they strayed from '70s-style howler rock. They were followed by Paul McDonald, who applied his pinched tenor to aimless adult-contemporary and styled himself to look like Jackson Maine: The Non-Greasy Years.
Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc
With Joshua & The Holy Rollers and Paul McDonald. At House of Blues, Dec. 20