American pop rock outfit Train have hits that will, no doubt, bounce off your subconscious and reverberate whether you want them to or not! For this is the band that were a mainstay of the Billboard charts and alt. rock radio waves of 1999 with hit single Meet Virginia, who bettered that effort just two years later with Drops Of Jupiter and continued their whimsical journey of chart staying power in 2009 with Hey, Soul Sister.
This month, the Patrick Monahan-led six-piece is back with eighth studio album A Girl, A Bottle, A Boat (if you discount a Christmas record and a note-for-note cover of Led Zeppelin II) and at first listen, it’s about as poppy as they’ve ever gone! To celebrate the launch, they played a small London show to just 800 fans at Islington’s Assembly Hall.
Walking onto the North London stage to the sound of a steam engine departing a station, the California rockers kicked off with new record cut Drink Up, Monahan, mic in hand, bounding about the stage and riling the crowd, which shifted up a gear as they tore straight into upbeat, bouncing single Drive By.
Spanish-tinged 50 Ways To Say Goodbye kept the energy on stage and out into the crowd high, the frontman barely coming up for air as he kicked off Save Me San Francisco single If It’s Love, the familiar material keeping the mixed demographic audience singing along as Monahan dipped down into the crowd, picking out fans’ phones and taking selfies.
“Can we take you back to the beginning, like 22 years ago?” the frontman asked, to screams from the audience which only grew as the opening bar of early hit single Meet Virginia rang out across the assembly hall. “Anyone know this one?” the frontman asked with a smirk between verses. During an instrumental break, he took time out to introduce new guitarist Luis Maldonado and throw out free t-shirts across the crowd, throwing hard enough to reach those seated on the upper level, the feel-good factor being dialled-up a thousand percent.
Explaining the new record, the 47-year-old said “I really wanted it to be a reflection of how much joy my life is in right now, sometimes it’s sad and sometimes it’s amazing … if you have a little bit of wine, everything can be a little bit better”, enticing chuckles from the crowd before going to explain that the last track from the record was written for his children “I have this strong belief that I can still be there with them when I’m gone”. Making use of the smaller environment, he stepped out to the edge of the stage and sung You Better Believe unamplified, accompanied delicately by Jerry Becker on keys.
Title track to fifth album Save Me, San Francisco had the lights and volume turned back on to the max next, the fun show continuing and the crowd singing along firmly once more. “We’re going to play that one again, ‘cause you guys seemed to like it a lot” Monahan jested of 2014 single Angel In Blue Jeans before asking the audience if they had heard any of the band’s new material and going on to air R&B-infused cut The News, it’s first live performance in public.
Save Me, San Francisco ballad Marry Me was up next, one audience member taking the opening bars as his cue to get down on one knee and propose to his girlfriend in the middle of the crowd, Monahan stopping the show briefly to invite the newly engaged couple up on stage to have their “first dance” to the remainder of the song they became engaged to. Ahhhh. “That ring means serious business my friend” the frontman quipped as the couple departed the stage.
You don’t cover a classic tune in the hometown of not just one, but two of the greatest rock stars to grace the planet without doing it justice, and that really is what Train managed with their rendition of Queen and David Bowie’s hit single Under Pressure, the number really allowing guitarist and incredible vocalist Luis Maldonado to show off his vocal as well as guitar talents, alongside keyboardist Jerry Becker’s stint on vocals, Monahan stepping off a little to really let his band truly shine. “So, just to clarify, we wrote that” the frontman said with a smirk.
I’m not 100% sure why a band with so many great melodies throughout their back catalogue decided to repurpose the famous melody from Larry Clinton Orchestra’s Heart and Soul for their latest single Play That Song, but they did and the crowd seemed to lap it up, already singing along with the newly released single.
The main set was closed out with 2009 hit Hey, Soul Sister, the group taking their leave of the stage before returning for a short encore, kicking off with new album track Working Girl before closing out the night with their biggest and most enduring hit Drops Of Jupiter. They promised to “play forever” when they return in October.
Train have seemingly embraced their mantel of “dad rock” wholeheartedly and instead of trying to dial down the cheese, they’re gone full-stilton. And you know what? It works so well for them. Tonight was a masterclass in how to have fun at a show without taking it, yourself or your audience too seriously, something that may explain their staying power.
A Girl, A Bottle, A Boat was released on Friday 27th January on Columbia and Train set sail (literally) on their fourth annual Sail Across The Sun festival on a cruise ship in two weeks before embarking on a massive 46-date US tour. They’re back in Europe for a 9-date leg in October, including a return to favourite West London haunt the Hammersmith Apollo on 23rd October.
Live review of Train @ Islington Assembly Hall by Kalpesh Patel on 31st January 2017.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate