Train w/The Fray, Matt Nathanson | 07.18.15

live train_smMatt Nathanson explained his role on the tour: “My job as the opener is to get you all riled up and leave you in a state of near ecstasy.”

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Fiddler’s Green, Denver

A powerhouse triple-header graced Denver’s Fiddler’s Green on Saturday with uneven intensity and varying levels of audience engagement. First up was Matt Nathanson, a celebrated artist in his own right. On this tour, though, he played the role of the unknown opener—and he played it well. As always, Nathanson quickly got the crowd behind him, thanks to hilarious stage banter, segues into cover songs, and crowd-participation requests. Taking the stage, the artist explained his role on the tour: “My job as the opener is to get you all riled up and leave you in a state of near ecstasy.” And he did just that.

Nathanson acknowledged the handful of children in the audience—most of them up front, where they were easily visible—and explained he would be using adult codes to describe some of his music. One example was “Run,” a song he co-wrote and recorded with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles, the theme of which he euphemistically described as two people “locked in a hotel room for three days playing Scrabble, trying to make each other scream ‘triple word score.’” Performing his version of James’s “Laid,” he magnanimously sang the “dirty part”—“comes”—to his bassist rather than the crowd, whom he lured into singing the falsetto “he, he, who” of the refrain. “Headphones” saw him running through the crowd from one side to the next, wandering that would continue as a theme throughout the night, as both subsequent singer did the same.

live fray_300Lead singer Isaac Slade introduced his band the Fray with a proclamation of “Colorado!” before diving into “Heartbeat.” Live, his voice sounded especially nasally and whiny, not particularly a good thing. Over a 90-minute set, they dipped into their four studio albums, from 2005’s much-heralded How to Save a Life to last year’s rootsier (and my personal favorite) Helios. Whereas Nathanson was completely engaging and highly entertaining, the Fray, for the most part, took the enthusiasm down a notch or three, which saw audience members frequently sitting down and even talking among themselves—a rarity for the normally polite Denver crowds. That the Fray was from Denver obviously worked in its favor; that, along with its multiple radio hits, prevented the show from being a near-snoozer.

The band was most engaging when guitarist/backing vocalist Joe King got up to sing lead or co-lead, especially on the latter, as he and Slade harmonized beautifully. Much like the hard-hitting finale to a fireworks show, the Fray closed with four heavy-hitters: “Wherever This Goes” (complete with excellent harmonies), “How to Save a Life,” “Cable Car,” and “Love Don’t Die.” They interrupted the final song with a break from the music, as Slade stood at the front of the stage, looking at the audience, waiting for (soliciting) accolades. When they came in the form of cheering and clapping, he gave a small smile, and then finished the song.

live trainAfter 15 minutes, the between-band house music of Journey suddenly cut off, and was replaced by House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” Next came the sound of a chugging train, which was met with wild applause, a sound that accompanied the members of Train as they took the stage. Full disclosure here: I’m not Train aficionado, and that didn’t change over the course of their show, so enthusiasts may want to read what follows with the appropriate fan-fueled skepticism. From the beginning, frontman Pat Monahan bugged me, wearing an unbuttoned blue oxford over a white t-shirt, holding a wireless mic in one hand while pacing from one side of the stage to the other: left, right, left, right. His apparent lack of enthusiasm (smiles don’t count) further isolated me from their performance.

The requisite two black girls stage right provided synchronized moves and backing vocals. While I often see this stage addition as the sign of a band jumping the shark, their voices were a welcome distraction from Monahan’s, whose vocals have never agreed with me. Nonetheless, Train played to the adoring crowd, with Monahan further titillating them by saying, “This is my favorite night so far of this tour, this energy and love.” As I alternated between sitting and standing, I had a hard time seeing why so many people are so crazy about this band.

The band delivered the apparent fan favorite “Save Me, San Francisco,” with the crowd eagerly shouting the last line of the refrain. Bouncing balls delivered from the stage, branded with the Train logo, rose and fell in the air during the entirety of the song. During the romantic “Wonder What You’re Doing for the Rest of Your Life,” the crowd’s energy became a full-blown dance party in the amphitheater. In an odd—yet apparently popular—move, the band brought a menagerie of children on stage, each waving Train handkerchiefs (and not dancing; odd) during a cover of “Locomotion.”

live train_little-helpAnd here the tide turned for me, as Monahan quit pacing and called Nathanson and Slade back on stage for a highly enjoyable rendition of “With a Little Help from My Friends.” After again complimenting the crowd—“This is the best, most favorite tour, and thank you for being part of it”—Monahan dove into “Sing Together.” and delivered an impressive falsetto. The three encore songs—“Hey, Soul Sister,” a cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” and the band’s massive hit “Drops of Jupiter”—sent the crowd home with twinkles in their eyes and stars in the skies. I, however, left with too-distant memories of the Matt Nathanson set that I wish had been longer. | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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