Train | 07.04.17

Independence Day and a Train performance are a great pair because Pat Monahan’s personality is like fireworks: ostentatious and dazzling.

Train | Photo Courtesy https://www.facebook.com/FiddlersGreenAmphitheatre/

Fiddler’s Green, Greenwood Village CO

Train’s “Play That Song” tour came to Denver for Independence Day, promising an evening of fireworks before the sky turned black. Natasha Bedingfield opened, mesmerizing the crowd with her shimmering blue dress as well as her stunning vocal cords. Just as it seemed “Unwritten” had come to a satisfying conclusion of Bedingfield’s segment, she belted out the final verse a cappella, leaving the crowd as breathless as it left her. Fortunately for her fans, the proclamation wasn’t entirely true, as she returned for a duet of “Bruises” with Pat Monahan halfway through Train’s performance. While the sweet and sultry tang of her voice wasn’t a perfect complement to Monahan’s funky-folk flavor, the duo’s performance tugged at my heartstrings nonetheless. After all, can’t we all relate to the bittersweet tenderness of fleeting love beneath the surface of our bruised hearts?

Speaking of bruises, I braced myself for a fresh wound as O.A.R took the stage. I’ve caught their show twice in the last decade at Red Rocks. The first of those performances meticulously embodied the cadence of all their albums, sending me into an arduous stupor. The latter, however, was a hot, cocky mess of genre chaos. So, on Independence Day, my purse was packed with cotton swabs to stuff in my ears should they start bleeding.

While I will concede that the smaller venue suited them much better, O.A.R.’s performance was still somewhat unremarkable. Their 2016 release “I Go Through” was a refreshing reprieve over the anarchy of identity I experienced at my last O.A.R. show, but it wasn’t quite enough to compensate for the lethargy of their set. Aside from the usual whimsy of Jerry DiPizzo and Jon Lampley on the horns, the fireworks were lacking. While I wouldn’t go out of my way to see them live again, I wouldn’t rule out buying another album, either. I don’t think they’re Shattered; it just seems they’ve played too many Crazy Games of Poker to get a full house.

As the sun set over Fiddler’s Green in Denver, the blaring horn of a train engulfed the theater. Pat Monahan and his Train crew took the stage with “Drink Up,” a sprightly track whose celebrity-laden music video launched just in advance of the tour. It was like a shot of espresso: bold, energizing, and a little risky so late in the afternoon of Train’s career. A Frappuccino of folk and funk, it delivered just the jolt I needed to get back on my feet.

Independence Day and a Train performance are a great pair because Monahan’s personality is like fireworks: ostentatious and dazzling. A Train show is more than a concert; it’s an experience with the singer himself. More than any other artist I’ve seen, Monahan makes a genuine effort to connect with his fans. Whether it’s taking selfies on audience members’ phones or pausing in the midst of a song to make a commentary, his persona is as grassroots as the band’s beginnings. And while “Meet Virginia” has crept into its twenties, flattery never ages. Train personalized the Denver leg of their tour by hailing Boulder for its role in the popularization of the phrase “Oh hell no,” and joking at the lyrics, “I’ve been high” (“Save Me, San Francisco”) that he wasn’t the only one.

Even the rose-colored glasses of rapport cannot sharpen the blur of all imperfections, though. It took Monahan a few songs to warm up, hitting a bumpy patch during “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” and not quite hitting his vocal stride until “Get to Me,” about a third of the way into the show. Modernizing “Meet Virginia” with a taste of their current flavor, Train made the transition between old and new seamless. “Working Girl,” “Drink Up,” and “Lost and Found” felt as natural as their debut album in 1998.

Train welcomed O.A.R. back to the stage for a cover of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” and the choice of the guest artist made sense at last. Whether it was the familiar tune of a beloved classic or some special synergy between the groups, they were dynamic together.

Near the end of the show, a mashup of Sia and Shawn Mendez bled into “Lost and Found.” Still on our feet from the launch of Train’s new music (not to mention the confetti, streamers, and occasional toddler-sized beach ball), Monahan finally deemed us ready for the top 50 Billboard hit “Play that Song.” The “Heart and Soul” melody is celebrated by some Train enthusiasts as the revival and rejuvenation of a catchy song we’ve all learned at some point on a keyboard in our parents’ basement, yet it is loathed by others as simplistic and unoriginal. I fall in the former camp, and I won’t apologize for it. For me, music is all about the “Heart and Soul.” Not just the tune—that’s part of it, of course—but lyrical empathy, fuzzy feel-goods, and a sense of personal kinship. And that’s what I get from Train. | Amanda Black

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