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MMMillionaire: Isaac Hanson at Northern Lights. Photo: John Whipple

Oh Brother, How Old Art Thou?
By David Greenberger

Hanson, Teitur
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]? My backyard?”

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 millionaires.

True Relievers

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.

—Erik Hage

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