(Concert Review) Train at Tanglewood

Pat Monahan, lead singer of Train, at Tanglewood (photo Seth Rogovoy)

Pat Monahan, lead singer of Train, at Tanglewood (photo Seth Rogovoy)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Review by Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, Mass.) — OK, so the tween girls and their moms and even some of their dads and older brothers and aunts and uncles all had a good time at the Train concert at Tanglewood last night.

So there ends my reportorial duties. But as I understand it, my job as a reviewer isn’t simply to mirror the crowd response – it’s to call crap crap when it’s crap. And Train is crap.

Sorry to be a party-pooper – and what a swell party it was for all those 12-year-old girls and their moms who dress like 12-year-old girls. Especially for the two dozen or so who got to join lead singer/lead cheerleader Pat Monahan onstage early in the show, at his invitation, to strut their PG-rated stuff at this PG-rated concert (no, it didn’t even earn a PG-13) that had some who thought Train was a rock band scratching their heads and wondering, just what the heck is this?

If Train ever had any rock cred – and that was certainly called into question on the basis of last night’s concert – the group certainly has shamelessly shed it in favor of going the corporate pop-rock route. And you have to grant Train this one achievement – in an era when corporate pop-rock is supposed to be all but dead, when major record labels are supposed to have totally lost the ability or desire or intention or know-how to manufacture hit groups and hit records, someone has figured out how to do so with this talentless trio plus hired hands.

Pat Monahan, lead singer of Train, at Tanglewood (photo Seth Rogovoy)

Pat Monahan, lead singer of Train, at Tanglewood (photo Seth Rogovoy)

When Train first came ‘round the bend in the late-1990s and early-aughts, the group seemed to bear some musical kinship with other backwards-looking groups like Counting Crows and Wallflowers that looked to classic rock for inspiration, although Train seemed to lack the distinctive personality those two bands brought to their material (owing in large part to the distinctive lead singers, Adam Duritz and Jakob Dylan, respectively, and their inventive, cryptic lyrics).

Perhaps we should have made more of the clue, however, that Monahan gave us in that he formed Train after serving as lead singer of a Led Zeppelin tribute band – meaning that he really had nothing original or inventive to deliver. Then again, at this point, one would’ve rather had seen a good impersonation of Led Zeppelin than the generic, formulaic pap the band performed for its fans last night.

No, instead, Train and Monahan seemed like some mutant hybrid of Richard Marx or Bryan Adams and Cher, combining the formers’ insipid balladeering and the latter’s penchant for costume changes and set pieces.

Yes, Pat Monahan, it turns out, is a Cher wannabe. Almost every number he performed included some sort of costume change – a cowboy hat, a new shirt, a red toreador jacket seemingly left over from a Michael Jackson video shoot – and some other kind of performance gimmick – for one number, he magically appeared at the center of a ramp upstage in a new white shirt after a blackout; for another, one he jokingly called his “Justin Bieber moment” (a telling reference if there ever was one), he circulated through the Shed while imploring his underage girl fans to marry him. (For the record, this teen idol is 42 years old. Oh, and sorry girls, he’s married – twice.)

When he was done with that number, he said, “Now that we’re married, it’s time for us to party,” whereby he pretty much gave over the vocal duties to the crowd to sing about lipstick on the billion-selling, Burning Man-inspired, ukulele-fueled hit single, “Hey Soul Sister,” whose title can only be meant ironically, as the single most defining characteristic of Train’s sound is how it fully and totally deracinates its music of any hint of rock’s soul or R&B roots.



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