Sunday, August 4, 2013
Concert review: Unstoppable Train offers well-crafted pop show in Dallas
While Train has never had a distinct style, it’s always had great singalong choruses.
DALLAS Train emerged in the post-Hootie ‘90s as just one more faceless band with catchy songs but little else going for it. Back then, nobody would’ve guessed it would still exist in 15 years, let alone be playing huge spots like Gexa Energy Pavilion, which it headlined Saturday night.
But there’s no underestimating well-crafted pop songs – especially if you can shape them to fit today’s radio.
Singer Pat Monahan and his San Francisco band mates devoted half the show to tunes from their most recent album, California 37 – a risky move for most older groups, but one that showed off Train’s evergreen writing chops. “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” stirred mariachi music into a fist-pumping dance anthem while “Drive By” fused ska and hip-hop into an infectious ditty.
Both tunes were co-written and produced by Espionage, the two-man Norwegian duo who also co-wrote Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” and Train’s 2009 comeback single, “Hey, Soul Sister.” The songs didn’t sparkle quite as brightly onstage as they do on radio, partly because the sound mix was muddy, even by Gexa standards.
Yet they reminded you that while Train has never had a distinct style, it’s also never lacked for great singalong choruses. The group started with the soaring “Calling All Angels” and encored with the nah-nah-nah refrain of “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me),” a 2001 song which Monahan dedicated to the late Kidd Kraddick.
“Drops of Jupiter” is way overexposed -- everyone from American Idol contestants to Taylor Swift have covered it, and Train’s original hit has crept back on the pop charts in the U.K. But its pervasiveness can’t dull the song’s beauty. On Saturday, “Jupiter” still sounded like a long-lost Elton John gem from the early ‘70s.
Elsewhere, Train took smooth trips through the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” -- replete with a curly-cue trumpet finale -- and The Band’s “The Weight,” featuring opening acts Gavin DeGraw and the Script. As if to prove just how adaptable it is, Train brought out Ashley Monroe of the twang trio Pistol Annies to duet on “Bruises,” the infectious hit she recently cut with the band, and a possible sign of things to come: If their pop hits ever dry up, Train could easily morph into a country band and keep rolling along for another 15 years.
Thor Christensen is a Dallas writer and critic.
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