Concert Reviews

Train at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 9/19/12


Train, the San Francisco band that has been the darlings of radio rock for over a decade, played to a capacity crowd at Red Rocks last night, and if the multigenerational audience's hoots and screams were any indication, the guys will be welcome back anytime. The crowd-jostling began far beyond the Morrison city limits. The traffic jam backed up at least five miles from the venue, creating a long red line of brake lights leading up to the Rocks.

See also: Train shills Drops of Jupiter, its

When the band came onstage, it was only after prerecorded steam engine noises came pulsing through the loudspeakers. The venue was in total darkness until drummer Scott Underwood appeared, playing syncopated rhythms that opened into "50 Ways to Say Goodbye." Within seconds, the stage lights went up, singer Pat Monahan came running onstage like he was late for a, uh, train, and the band was in full-on limelight mode.

The projections onstage were fairly remarkable, with constantly-changing colors reflecting off of the bases of special platforms where bandmembers stood. Monahan himself strutted across the stage wearing a tight-fitting band T-shirt and jeans, resembling the thousands of concertgoers in the crowd.

A word about demographics at the show: Monahan is 43 years old -- around the same age as many in the audience -- and old enough to have a teenager or two, as many attendees did. The crowd here was not diverse in the ethnic or socioeconomically sense, but in terms of age, folks were otherwise all over the place.

It makes sense; Train has long been regarded as a go-to group for versatile, inoffensive rock music. This is a group that injects just the right amount of ingredients in each song to appeal to a massive following. Some soul here, a touch of reggae there, a couple Beatles-influenced chords there and voila -- a song that will touch a wide range of listeners.

Such tunes as "This'll Be My Year" and "If It's Love" struck obvious chords with the audience, judging by the massive sing-along that resulted from both. They performed these songs and others either exactly as they appeared on each of Train's seven studio albums, or as prepared for this tour. The little interludes wherein the band played homage to its influences -- a couple lines from the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and Aretha Franklin's "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" were thoroughly rehearsed.

About halfway through the show, the band performed a medley of songs from each of their albums, going all the way back to 1998's "Free." A verse or chorus from one song would morph into another; "When I Look to the Sky" turned into "For Me, It's You" and so on. Each snippet showcased the dual talents of baritone Monahan and lead guitarist Jimmy Stafford.

The hits are of course what generated the most adulation. "Meet Virginia", a song that was as damn-near inescapable on adult contemporary radio as "Calling All Angels" or "Drops of Jupiter," were so universally adored that Monahan didn't even need to sing. Actually, on "Soul Sister," he let the audience do the work.

Not that it was difficult, but if Monahan wanted to wrap the crowd around his finger, he certainly did so with "Mermaid" (from California 37). While introducing that song, Monahan acknowledged that many concertgoers brought their kids with them. He then invited about thirty young women onto the stage to help him sing and dance to that song. Little mermaids flapped their collective fins while Monahan sang impeccably. He appeared to have no problem cheesing it up for the audience here, nor should he. This was not a night for cynics anyway.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Train's oeuvre has always struck me as a bit formulaic and sedate, though the band is comprised of some undoubtedly accomplished characters.

Random Note: I met a gopher for the band on the way up to the venue. He was carrying a box full of vitamins for Train. Maybe it's to combat the altitude sickness?

By the Way: Opener Mat Kearney led the audience through a fine cluster of songs, mostly from his 2011 album Young Love. After a rendition of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark," he left a still-building crowd in the near blackness, waiting for Train to appear.