“Same as it ever was” as so famously sung by The Talking Heads perfectly describes why fans flock to Train shows year after year.
Much in the same way that Jimmy Buffett has ground out a monster career with diehard followers, San Francisco’s Train has written a dozen or so super catchy pop hits over its lengthy career, and when you buy a ticket to one of the band’s shows you can rest assured you’re going to hear most, if not all, of them. Marry that with expert showmanship from lead singer Pat Monahan (the only member of Train who has been there from the beginning), a fresh lighting rig and visuals each year and you get a song and dance party that begins even before the band takes the stage.
The show Sunday, July 9, at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys opened with the music thumping through the PA’s as the set, behind a black curtain, was put into place. Party favs like Beastie Boys anthem “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” and House of Pain’s “Jump Around” had the crowd whipped up even before a stage rig was revealed. It was modeled after a Wurlitzer jukebox that looked like a giant Wheel of Fortune set.
Party tune “Drink Up” from the latest album “A Girl A Bottle A Boat” filled the twilight air to kick things off, and Train wasted no time getting to the aforementioned hits, dropping right into the self-protecting breakup song “50 Ways To Say Goodbye.” The song begins with a mariachi trumpet riff, and features lyrics describing made-up reasons a couple breaks up, including “getting run over by a crappy purple Scion.” It serves a model for the way Train uses humor to deal with life situations, and was also evident as the band rolled through the up-tempo “If It’s Love.” The song also features Monahan inviting fans to toss their cell phone onstage (sometimes at his own peril) after which the singer takes a selfie and tosses it back in the crowd as he runs through the vocal without missing a word.
“Calling All Angels,” “Save Me San Francisco,” “Hey, Soul Sister” and “Working Girl” all made appearances. An acoustic “Marry Me” saw drummer Drew Shoals not only play bassist Hector Maldonado’s electric bass, but hi-hat and kick bass drum on a scaled down kit at the same time. The band stayed in place, sitting on the first step of a riser with Shoals on the abbreviated kit, and ran through a beautifully performed “When I Look To The Sky.” It was Monahan’s best vocal of the evening as he occasionally struggled on some songs, but you could hardly blame him given they’re wrapping up a monster 46-stop tour next week that began in May.
The band was joined by opener Natasha Bedingfield for their nightly duet of the ballad “Bruises,” and also by Of A Revolution’s lead vocalist Marc Roberge (who could pass for a younger Monahan vocally and visually) and saxophonist Jerry DePizzo covering Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” A cover of Queen’s “Under Pressure” brought a little edge and featured strong vocals from bassist Maldonado and lead guitarist brother Luis Maldonado to open a two-song encore before 2002 Grammy winner for Best Rock Song, “Drops Of Jupiter,” sent everyone to the exits happily spent after their annual Train sing-along.
Train has figured out what works for them, what their fans want, and they deliver it night in and night out in a fun and engaging manner. Having seen them for each of the last three tours, I don’t expect them to be deviating anytime soon from the formula that has filled arenas for years.
While the American Century Championship is played across the street this weekend, Lenny Kravitz and ZZ Ward perform on Friday, July 14, and Third Eye Blind plays Sunday, July 16, at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys.