They Ain't Heavy, They're Hanson

The brotherly trio brings teenybop appeal overseas to London and finds that they're more than welcome.

LONDON -- Wembley Arena could do with a revamp.

I suggest importing non-tight-laddering seats that don't wobble precariously when security guards walk past, repainting the entire building, updating its look to something more modern than the Industrial Revolution and, most importantly, implementing a strict dress code.

This is the conclusion I reached Tuesday at the famed arena as I watched multitudes of Hanson fans wearing midriff-revealing tops and trendy combat trousers, successfully accentuating their ironing-board figures. It might also be

a good idea to make Wembley Arena's acoustics a little less booming -- 20 billion teen-age voices screaming their love for Taylor Hanson can get overwhelming.

But the less than romantic setting hardly spoiled the mood in the arena.

"It doesn't matter at all," said Natasha Bates, 12, from South London.

"I'm here for the music and to see Hanson playing live, so nothing else

is really important tonight."

Personally, I don't have anything against Hanson's fan following --

misguided as they may be -- although it wouldn't surprise me if Hanson's

support group, Hillman Minx, was less open-minded. Having jettisoned

B*Witched at four days' notice, Hanson announced that they wanted a local

group as a support act (ah, the benevolence). Enter Hillman Minx, a

mediocre indie band whose genial but negligible tunes warmed the arena

very little.

At every mention of Hanson, the crowd screamed wildly, almost as eagerly as when Hillman Minx's singer announced, "This is our last song."

And then ...

"Weeeeellllcooooome!" shouted a small thin boy on the stage in an

American accent. Fiber-optic strands waved through the air and luminous

green plastic blobs were swung in feverish circles in the darkness.

The crowd blew on its whistles and deafened its worried chaperones.

Hanson descended on Wembley with a vengeance, which is just what their

British fans were expecting.

Kicking off with a live version of "Thinking of You," the band's forthcoming U.K. single, Hanson launched the gig with enthusiasm and, surprisingly, style. Against the backdrop of what seemed to be a

scramble net made of silver foil, lights danced fascinatingly around the

stage -- which is more than can be said for the Hanson boys as they played parked behind their instruments, their blond strands dangling lifelessly in front of their darling faces.

There wasn't much action from the trio during the 90-minute set. The highlight, in fact, came when Taylor moved from keyboard to drums with an mmmhop, hit the cymbal and returned in time for the next verse of "River" (RealAudio excerpt). Of course, Taylor's extravagance was rewarded by the inevitable, high-pitched cries from his devoted onlookers.

More interesting were the two extra, non-Hanson guitarists strumming away at the edge of the spotlight -- they seemed to be having a good time, and at least they had credible haircuts.

But this was the band's first U.K. gig, and the fans somehow found it in

their hormonal hearts to forgive the boys for their stationary mmmbopping. Apparently, fans were happy just to have them grace the stage, performing some of their biggest hits -- these brothers three. The set included all of Hanson's U.K. singles: the name-maker "MMMBop"

(RealAudio excerpt), the less successful but more meaningful "Where's the Love," "Weird" (RealAudio excerpt) and a glorious rendition of "I Will Come to You," which, in its full live immensity, was really quite credible and ended the concert on a huge high.

The highlight of the concert, from a musical point of view, came in the middle -- an acoustic set complete with a backdrop in the shape of the band's living room -- when Hanson play a selection of tracks from the new, ah, old album, Three-Car Garage, as well as some new material.

As drummer boy Zac and middle brother Taylor disappeared behind the curtain, the oldest brother, Isaac, launched into a song "that's never been recorded before." What followed was no mere pop melody, but a guitar ballad of such mournful sincerity and heart-rending tenderness that some parents (and/or chaperones) in the crowd were moved to waving their Zippo lighters in the air.

That's not so of the young fans, for everyone knows that fire is a dangerous thing to play with.

As Mary Bradley, 41, from Manchester, England, put it: "That older boy seems to have real talent, but my daughter says he's the least popular Hanson. Perhaps they're giving him a chance to shine now -- but I think he's actually rather good."

Hanson's shamelessly tacky pop is at times shallow and, at others, surprisingly perceptive -- Taylor later sang "I'm Feelin' Down" with such heartfelt simplicity, and the echoing cheer from the audience would suggest that today's troubled teenyboppers empathize.

Perhaps Hanson are the voice of a generation, but it's one too young to know what they're talking about.