Boundless Train

Metro - Chicago

April 2, 1999

First Appeared in The Music Box, May 1999, Volume 6, #5

Written by John Metzger


It's unusual for a band to command an audience's attention throughout their entire performance. Experienced groups often lose their fans during new material, while new bands generally struggle to maintain their listeners' attention through everything except their radio hits and a few choice cover songs. Train, therefore, is indeed a rarity, if their performance at Chicago's Metro on April 2 is any indication.

On their trek through town six months ago, Train performed at Martyr's, a club that is significantly smaller than Metro. Despite performing at a much larger venue on this tour, the band succeeded in drawing a close-to-capacity crowd. What is truly amazing is that those in attendance hung on every note the group played and sang along not only to the hits, but also to other tunes from the group's self-titled debut album.

There's no doubt that musically Train draws from a well-spring similar to that of the Counting Crows and Blind Melon. Like these bands, Train borrows from a myriad of influences, fusing these together into genre-jumping songs that blend psychedelic and blues-based pop with jazz and folk.

Train clearly centers their sound around the soulful vocal delivery of Patrick Monahan. At the Metro performance, Monahan's singing style added quite an emotional punch to slower selections such as the tender and reflective Blind, and his enthusiastic and charismatic stage presence fueled the group's edgier anthems like their current hit Free. In addition, he added an assortment of instruments to the mix, including saxophone on the thunderous groove of Train, trumpet on the infectious hit-to-be Meet Virginia, and conga drum on the rousing drum solo that connected these two songs.

Guitarist Rob Hotchkiss layered each selection the band performed with a rhythmic acoustic flavor that brought many of the songs back to the band's early days as an acoustic duo in the cafes of San Francisco. On the other side of the stage stood Jimmy Stafford who gave the music texture by contributing resounding electric guitar chords and irresistible hooks. On I Am, he slung both a guitar and a mandolin over his shoulder and switched back and forth between the two throughout the tune.

Rounding out the band was the phenomenal rhythm section of bassist Charlie Colin and drummer Scott Underwood. Their presence is somewhat understated on the group's debut album, but these two truly came alive in concert. Colin's bass lines danced methodically around the songs' melodies, and Underwood's percussion yielded raw, unabashed power.

Over the course of their 85-minute set, Train performed their entire debut album (something they amazingly had never done before). In addition, they threw in a trio of new songs and a furious rendition of Led Zeppelin's Ramble On that was filled with far more energy and passion than Robert Plant and Jimmy Page currently could muster. The result was a cohesive performance that combined fluid vocals with boundless energy that at times formed into an intense sonic whirlwind.

Train has no doubt left the station and is moving full steam ahead. This is one band that you'll certainly be hearing much more about in the coming months.

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Copyright 1999 The Music Box