July 18, 2010
It's hard to feel sorry for Pat Monahan, lead singer for the San Francisco-based Train. Sure, the band may have peaked 10 years ago, when its Drops of Jupiter--fueled in large part by the inescapable titular song--sold more than three million copies. But Train has kept rolling since and actually posted an impressive comeback last year with the release of its fifth album, Save Me, San Francisco, and the hit song Hey, Soul Sister.
But even if the band hadn't reinvigorated itself as a commercial presence, no one should shed tears for its front man. The guy looks like a 30something Rob Lowe, possesses mad vocal talent and, based on his performance last night at the Orange County Fair, he may be the most joyful fucker on the face of the planet.
The band's 16-song, 90-minute performance was heavy on the hits, light on musical experimentation and fully focused on its most impressive attribute: Monahan's great voice and sweetly charismatic energy. His ebullience infected the sold-out crowd of 9,780 (the most tickets sold for a Pacific Amphitheatre show since the Fair took over its operation in 2003), particularly the 10 people--and giant banana won as a midway prize by one lucky fan-- he pulled on stage with him during the set, to use as comic foils or backup singers.
While his Ryan Seacrest-like audience interaction did start wearing a bit thin, there's no mistaking the passion that Monahan injects into the music, whether giving the crowd what it wanted with the mega hits Drops of Jupiter, and Calling All Angels, to the emotionally baring Marry Me, one of five songs pulled from the band's 2009 album, Save Me, San Francisco.
The title song of that aforementioned album may have been the highlight of the night. The song, like the album, marked a return to Train's roots, both musically and geographically, and Monahan, while wildly amped the entire night, seemed most alive when crowing about the Tenderloin, the Fillmore and the city that he obviously holds dear to his heart..
Train is a band heavy on pop and ballads, and Monahan's bandmates rarely cut loose and let it rip, so it's not exactly the most powerful of experiences. And the lyrics, while always nakedly honest and confessional, aren't particularly evocative (think the Counting Crow's Adam Duritz had he never discovered Bob Dylan).
But Train puts on a hella fun show and convincingly showed that after 12 years of mammoth highs and some deep lows, there's no chance it's going to run out of steam any time soon.
Critics Bias: I drunkenly mocked Train during a half-time show at a 49er game last year.
The Crowd: Spread fairly evenly between teens and 30somethings, all of them highly enthused and no doubt dreaming of corn dogs and funnel cake.
Overheard in the Crowd:
"Train did this song?"
"My first girlfriend threw up on me on this lawn in the 80s during Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone."
"Man, they're 100 times better than when I saw them at that halftime show!"
"What the fuck? Alcohol sales cut off at 9:15?"
"I'd like a giant banana."
Random notebook dump: This is the first year since 2003 that the Fair has opened up the Pac Amp's lawn. It'll only be for select shows but keep this in mind: My reviewer ticket was in the third row, enough to count the ripples on Monahan's washboard stomach when he changed shirts, but since my ride had a lawn ticket, I kicked it up there for most of the show. The sound was wayyyy better.
Get to Me
She's on Fire
I got You
If It's Love
I Look to the Sky
Calling all Angels
Save the Day
Save Me San Francisco
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Hey Soul sister
Drops of Jupiter