Trio ‘MMMBop’s back to the Webster Theater

Allison Corneau

From the looks of the crowd of screaming teen girls outside Hartford’s Webster Theater March 10, passersby would have thought Justin Timberlake was performing at the venue. Instead the act taking the stage that night was none other than the early 90’s pop trio Hanson.

There is no need to feel ashamed if you cannot remember exactly who this band of brothers is; they have been sporadically on and off the music radar for the last few years. If you thought the popularity of this Tulsa, Okla.-bred group had dwindled in their absence, think again.

Drummer Zac, 18, keyboardist Taylor, 21, and guitarist Isaac, 23, were in town to promote their upcoming full-length release “Underneath,” set to hit stores next month. An eight song acoustic version of the disc was released through the band’s Web site, and included their new single “Penny and Me.”

Hours before the performance, fans gathered outside the venue to mingle and demonstrate their affections for the band to a VH1 camera crew who was at the event to capture footage for an hour-long Hanson documentary airing in April. The Hartford performance, one of three dates scheduled in the tri-state area, saw the likes of a dedicated few fans who camped out two days prior to the concert in order to see their favorite band.

Solo artist Ben Jelen served as Hanson’s opening act, performing a sampling of tracks from his debut album, “Give It All Away,” to be released next Tuesday. Clad in jeans and black Converse sneakers, the newcomer Jelen looked ever so comfortable performing on stage. Music fans will want to follow the singer in the next few months, as his unique talents playing piano, violin and guitar during live performances could propel him to be a possible contender for a Best New Artist Grammy.

Jelen performed a short but powerful set with backing from two guitarists and a drummer. With catchy hooks and breathy vocals, it is apparent that Jelen really enjoys what he does. His boyish good looks and refreshingly mellow tunes, like his single “Come On,” had the young audience captivated for a while, but not long enough for the crowd to remember that they were there solely to see Hanson.

The Ben Folds sound-alike Jelen also performed “Rocks,” “Give It All Away,” and “She’ll Hear You,” all of which are included on his debut disc from Madonna’s Maverick record label.

After what seemed to be an eternity for the teen audience, the brothers Hanson took the stage with a vibrant exuberance reminiscent of their mid-90’s peak in the music industry. Dedicated fans sang along with the group, who opened their acoustic set with the high-energy tune “Rock and Roll Razorblade,” and followed with “Strong Enough to Break,” a song included on their upcoming album.

A stripped down version of the group’s hit “Where’s the Love” had fans clapping and singing along, remembering why they fell in love with the band in the first place. It has been three years since Hanson last toured, and witnessing the Webster’s receptive crowd that night, it appeared as if Hanson never left.

Multitasking seemed to be the theme of the night, as Isaac, Taylor and Zac each took turns performing songs on various instruments not normally their own. For the new tune “Underneath,” Zac stepped away from his drum kit to man the harmonica, and all three brothers strummed acoustic guitars for “When You’re Gone.”

Showcasing their live performance adaptability, Hanson treated fans to acoustic version of the Crosby, Stills and Nash classic “Teach Your Children,” and a unique rendition of Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty.”

While Hanson fans have matured during the band’s seven year career, it is evident the band did their own fair share of growing up, now with a more sophisticated sound to match. Put away the bubble gum music fans, because the boys are back in town and all grown up.