Review by Scott Tady for Beaver County Times, photos Alan Welding for PGH Music Mag and Beaver County Times
You don’t earn bragging rights for seeing a Train concert.
The San Francisco rock band plays the Pittsburgh area a lot, and those headlining shows don’t sell out. And it’s not as if they’re a hipster-approved band moving the pop-culture needle.
But if you bought a Train ticket for Wednesday night at KeyBank Pavilion, you spent your money wisely.
Train delivered a fun show with all sorts of summery feels — beach balls battered around the audience during a song and singer Pat Monahan tossed T-shirts into the crowd, including a yellow Pittsburgh Steelers T he wore briefly before getting the whole band to autograph it. Monahan barely waited two songs to drop his first reference to being a proud western Pennsylvania native, Erie-born.
Train sounded good, with a couple of female backing singers providing lightly soulful touches and Luis Maldonado firing off slick guitar licks. He and bassist/brother Hector Maldonado showed off surprisingly good singing, too, handling the lead parts on Queen’s “Under Pressure.” Monahan knew Luis had some pipes, at one point playfully pouncing in front of the three-year member of the band to block the video camera from focusing on him.
The loudest singing came from the crowd of 12,500 or so. You don’t realize how fervent Train fans can be until you hear them en masse shouting out the “oh, hell no” line in “Save Me, San Francisco,” or supplying a chorus of “Hey, Soul Sister.”
With recent local appearances — including supporting Hall and Oates last year at PPG Paints Arena, being a late-minute substitute for the 2017 Penguins-Flyers hockey skirmish at Heinz Field and headlining KeyBank Pavilion, where Monahan was one of the first people to sport a James Conner Steelers jersey (also from Erie) — Train offered a familiar but comfortable feel and a well-constructed setlist.
Train started with a popular second-tier hit, “Calling All Angels,” showcasing Monahan’s easy-to-take voice.
During “If It’s Love,” a front-row fan tossed a smartphone to Monahan, who snapped a selfie of himself without breaking stride before tossing it back. That prompted a dozen other fans to fling their phones at Monahan, who did his best to keep up but eventually had to duck a flurry of phones like a bad comedian being pelted with crumpled-up cups and bottles.
Let’s hope the phone tossing doesn’t become a concert trend.
Opening act Allen Stone came back on stage to sing a little of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” It didn’t get anywhere near the loud response of Train’s cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “American Girl” (with Luis Maldonado wielding a double-neck guitar) mashed with a bit of Petty’s “Free Fallin’.” Monahan explained that the New York-praising song symbolized the state where “Bruises” was written, as Stone stayed on stage to handle the Ashley Monroe part of that duet with Monahan.
Before “Meet Virginia,” Monahan asked how many in the crowd were old enough to remember Train’s 1999 breakout hit. Most raised their hands. “Meet Virginia” was a standout Wednesday, all poppy in the chorus but with deliciously heavy guitar and bass chords at the breaks.
Without making a speech, Monahan quickly asked for the house lights to be turned on in remembrance of the Dayton and El Paso shooting victims, as fans held aloft lighted phones for “When I Look to the Sky.”
For “Marry Me,” the video screen showed wedding footage, including some of Monahan’s, though the two loudest audience cheers came for a few same-sex marriages.
“Hey, Soul Sister” and “Play That Song” were a well-received one-two punch of pop-rock, followed by Train’s requisite Led Zeppelin cover, on this night “Heartbreaker,” with Luis doing an impressive if not perfectly mimicked representation of Jimmy Page’s mighty soloing as Monahan channeled his inner Robert Plant. As Train pulled “Heartbreaker” into the station, Monahan softly sang a few lines of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion.”
“Drops of Jupiter” made for the ideal encore, giving Monahan one last song to let his voice soar, as the vast majority of fans stayed put till the very end.
Some of the audience turnout can be attributed to the Goo Goo Dolls, the platinum-selling support act that did a fine job in its hourlong set.
Before the Buffalo, N.Y., rockers took the stage, a crew worker vacuumed the carpet on which barefoot bassist Robby Takac would post himself, periodically doing karate kicks when the music moved him.
Singer John Rzeznik’s voice sounded solid, as he worked the full stage with a guitar slung around his back and a hand-held mic when necessary. He strummed acoustically for “Slide,” one of the band’s three biggest hits that showed up third in the set. Big black balloons bounced around the audience for “Black Balloon.” One of those balloons reached Rzeznik, who spun and struck it with the top of his acoustic guitar, making a loud popping noise so perfectly timed, Rzenik said, “Thank you. Good night!”
He later reminisced fondly of the band’s first Pittsburgh gig, at the former Electric Banana punk-rock club.
“They paid us in beer, which at the time was a really good idea,” Rzeznik said.
He also recalled the thrill of seeing the band atop the Rolling Stone music chart with its breakout single “Name,” which sounded great Wednesday, as Rzeznik squeezed a lot of noise out of his uniquely tuned guitar.
The new song “Miracle Pill” had a fresh sound and interesting perspective on our instant gratification-seeking society.
Goo Goo Dolls finished strongly with “Iris” sounding just as it did when it dominated late-1990s radio, and then the harder-rocking “Broadway,” a rousing number, even if it meant the last lyric of their set was, “See the young man sitting in the old man’s bar/Waiting for his turn to die.”
Seattle singer-songwriter Stone made an impact with his half-dozen songs. He spoke cheerfully about his role of warming up the audience’s vocal cords but delivered some poignant songs, such as “American Privilege” with the line “I don’t lose sleep for kids sewing my sheets/Or the ones snitching my sneaks, as long as I can buy ’em both cheap.”
Tough to say how deeply the audience was listening to him, but Stone seemed to go over fairly well.