Isaac Hanson at Northern Lights. Photo:
Brother, How Old Art Thou?
By David Greenberger
Northern Lights, Aug. 15
I’m revealing no state secret when I say that the arrangement
in reviewing a show is that the reviewer generally receives
a pair of free tickets to the event. Obviously that’s twice
as many tickets as are required, but that “plus one” is a
small nicety, allowing said reviewer to attend with a companion.
For last Friday’s Hanson show at Northern Lights, my plus
one was my 16-year-old daughter, which provided me with glimpses
and insights I’d otherwise not have been easily afforded.
A number of her friends—girls—were excited to attend, but
lingered too long on the ticket-buying front—and the show
sold out within days of its announcement. On the day of the
show, my daughter ran into someone in our little town—a boy—who
said to her, “Hanson? Didn’t they play Pepsi Arena a few years
ago? What’s next—Something’s Brewing [our local coffee shop]?
In fact, this return of the brothers Hanson has been smartly
orchestrated. Not only are they selling out these significantly
smaller venues; the choice of playing clubs rather than small
theaters underscores their new maturity—as well as that of
their audience. This was still an audience primarily too young
to drink, with bottled-water sales chalking up the most points
on the cash registers, but by acknowledging those intervening
years, the band sidestepped the trap of mere nostalgia. Those
15-to-20-year-olds aren’t just witnessing the first comeback
from their youth, they’re now of an age where they can look
back on their own lives. The mathematics in traversing those
years behind them also springs them forward into their futures,
spelling out the passage of time in ways that hopefully become
one of the planks in the platform of mature thinking, planning,
hoping and dreaming. But back to the show . . .
The pride of the Faroe Islands, Teitur (whose name means “happy
man”), played a surprisingly engaging 30-minute opening set,
accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. His songs also found
their way home with many attendees, as his recent CD was being
wisely sold for just 10 bucks.
Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson emerged to vintage Beatlemania
screams, and launched into an acoustic performance. The sound
at first was wobbly, with the full trap set sounding distant
from the acoustic guitar and keyboard. Henceforth, with a
switch to lighter percussives for most of the songs, the sound
found its legs, and the absence of bottom was offset by a
focus on the brothers’ impressive vocal harmonies. As were
other parents, I was standing outside the sweating throng,
and from the far end of the room, the cumulative sound of
Hanson and the massed voices singing along was positively
mesmerizing. It created a character of its own, combining
the band with voices that were not those of children, but
not those of adults either.
The 90-minute set brought forth songs from their new album
as well as the favorites on which their reputation was built.
Each of the three played a solo number. Young Zac, now 17,
was the most tentative, accompanying himself on piano for
a result that could’ve been a demo for a song by Queen as
played by a cartoon character. Isaac, the elder at 22, came
off the most natural, and Taylor, the 20-year-old now- married
heartthrob (“Taylor! Take off your pants!” was but one of
the yells to emanate from the crowd) had the most noticeable
vocal mannerisms. The bottom line is they worked perfectly
as a band, far less so as solo acts.
Additionally, they were at their strongest with their own
material. The few covers ranged from annoying hippie drivel
(“Teach Your Children”) to the hard-to-believe, exacerbated
by undue length (“Rip It Up”). “MMMBop” was played with an
undiminished enthusiasm that was admirable and professional.
It made the stripped-down scale of their show seem completely
natural. They followed that monstrous hit with “This Time
Around,” the title track from their 2000 album. It sold just
a fraction of the 6.5-million-plus of Middle of Nowhere,
but ended the show on a more emotionally expansive note.
All singing, all shaving, Hanson are finding their way in
the world again. Drawing on their own talents and the still-large
community of fans (many of whom had lined up early in the
day awaiting the opening of the doors at 7:30), their quest
has parallels in the searching, scrambling, studying and discovery
of others their age. Except, of course, these three guys are
Tired Skin: An Alejandro Escovedo Benefit
Valentines, Aug. 16
Alejandro Escovedo is a wildly talented Texas singer-songwriter
in the fifth decade of his life—but that statement alone,
while accurate, doesn’t quite sum up all the things he is
to music fans. He was a member of the first-generation California
punkers the Nuns (who opened the Sex Pistols’ final show),
cow-punkers Rank and File and impassioned roots-rockers True
Believers. All of these stages culminated in his career as
a solo artist, wherein he channeled those guises into performances
and tunes that were marked as much by their chamberlike beauty
as they were by their punk rawness.
And let’s not forget Escovedo’s voice: He just opens his mouth
and out comes pure, emotional tone. Suffice it to say that
his place in musical history is secure, but (an old tale here)
critical security has not translated into financial stability.
Escovedo contracted Hepatitis C years ago; recently, his health
has taken a turn for the worse, and (like many of the artists
I happen to give a flying fuck about) he has no health insurance.
It’s a tribute to the Capital Region that, like several cities
across the country, we hosted a benefit for Escovedo. Local
troubadour Michael Eck assembled a strong lineup of musicians
with ties both literal and figurative to the singer. Fortunately,
as the night wore on, an initially slim turnout swelled to
a good-sized house. Eck and Greg Haymes (aka Sarge Blotto)
opened the performance with Escovedo’s “Tired Skin.” I’ve
always thought that music journalists being performers was
an invitation to hubris; fortunately, writer-musicians Eck
and Haymes don’t harbor such half-assed fears, and they provided
a stirring prologue, with Haymes’ mournful and soulful harmonica
tones providing affecting accents. After the number, they
gave the stage over to onetime Albany resident Stephen Clair.
Fresh from a daytime performance at the Berkshire Music Fest,
he offered a set of strong, easygoing tunes, and recalled
once being reduced to inconsolable “bawling” at an Escovedo
concert at the Iron Horse.
Hayseed paid tribute to his onetime labelmate with an exhilarating
set backed by a barnstorming four-piece that included the
area’s premiere steel man, Kevin Maul, on Dobro. I don’t pretend
to know much about the exotic instrument Maul wears slung
at hip-level, but I’ve had the opportunity to see some of
the country’s finest purveyors of the thing, and, Jerry Douglas
be damned, Maul is my favorite—so it’s exciting to see that
he and Hayseed, our finest rustic belter, have found each
other. Maul’s tight trills and flashingly gorgeous leads spurred
Hayseed’s unearthly Americana gospel to even grander heights.
The Seed was in fine voice himself, his hardscrabble country
soulfulness providing a bunch of evening highlights. It’s
hard not to get gooseflesh when the man ominously barks, “The
information age is upon us!” simultaneously evoking rustic
paean and digital-age anxiety. The group sounded rough and
ready for their upcoming opening set for Rosanne Cash at the
Empire State Plaza.
Eck and Haymes returned for the bravest turn of the night,
choosing to shoulder through a set of primarily Escovedo tunes.
Along with a gradually accumulative ensemble of the night’s
musicians, singer Eck summoned up some of Escovedo’s most
heartachey stuff, including “Rosalie” and “Last to Know,”
as well as unlikely covers Escovedo has made his own, including
Mott the Hoople’s “I Wish I Was Your Mother” and the Faces’
“Ooh La La”—the latter providing a rousing set closer.
Ed Hamell, aka Hamell on Trial, represented another creative
side of Escovedo, one driven by id, fury and formative years
spent spinning Stooges records. Hamell was on the receiving
end of benefit concerts himself after a severe car accident
in 2000; here, he whipped himself up into a froth of sweat
and spray for his onetime mentor and producer, opening with
a gloriously brutal rendition of his own “Don’t Kill” (no
Escovedo songs from this singular performer). I’m not sure
what act of fury, alchemy, wires and downtuning allows Hamell
to turn the aged wood of his Gibson acoustic into a buzz-saw
symphony, but his bombastic guitar attack and biting litanies
all but saturated the room, while unblinkingly addressing
all the ugliness, despair and hope of being a sensitive, thinking
individual in a media-driven, often artistically hollow age.
But the man ought to have a parental-advisory sticker tattooed
to his bald pate: His between-song chatter is more scatological
than a shelf full of Bukowski. Hamell also had the crowd in
stitches as he continually tormented the headset-wearing recording
engineer by purring eroticisms and profanities into a secondary
microphone that was capturing the evening for prosperity.
Hamell’s smutty rants aside, I’m sure the tapes will show
that this was one damn fitting benefit for (and tribute to)
Alejandro Escovedo. Get well, mi amigo.