BY JOSH BELL
MAY 5, 2017
Bay Area rock band Train emerged at a time when jangly, laid-back rockers were at their peak of popularity, and the band’s early hit “Meet Virginia” fit in perfectly with the late ’90s sound of bands like Matchbox Twenty, Better Than Ezra and Barenaked Ladies. But while many of Train’s peers have been consigned to the nostalgia circuit, Train mastermind Pat Monahan has stayed ahead of the curve, evolving his band’s sound to embrace new pop trends while retaining the relaxed, guitar-driven vibe of Train’s early music.
Train actually has roots in a Led Zeppelin cover band (reflected in Train’s 2016 covers album Train Does Led Zeppelin II), which was Monahan’s main gig before he headed to California and joined up with the original members of Train. The band released its self-titled debut album in 1998, and the catchy, quirky “Meet Virginia” became a top 20 hit on the Billboard singles chart and helped the band reach both rock and pop audiences on mainstream radio.
More mainstream hits followed, bringing the band further into the pop world with songs like “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me),” “Calling All Angels” and “Get to Me.” By far the band’s biggest hit came in 2009 with “Hey, Soul Sister,” a relentlessly catchy pop song co-written by Monahan and pop producing duo Espionage. It hit the top of the charts in 16 countries and was the No. 2 best-selling single of 2010 in the United States, and it remains a radio favorite and, of course, a Train concert staple.
The band scored even more hits as it embraced its pop side, working with collaborators like Ryan Tedder, Butch Walker and Greg Kurstin, all major songwriters and producers in the pop world. “Drive By,” “50 Ways to Say Goodbye,” “Angel in Blue Jeans” and “Play That Song” all climbed the Billboard singles charts, and January’s A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat became the band’s sixth album to debut in the top 10 on the Billboard album charts. In between, Train has recorded a Christmas album (2015’s Christmas in Tahoe, including the radio hit “Shake Up Christmas”) and the aforementioned 2016 collection of Led Zeppelin covers, which was supported by a Led Zeppelin-focused tour. The band even headlines its own cruise every year, in keeping with Train’s general feel-good vibes.
As of 2017, Monahan is the only remaining original member of Train (although original guitarist Jimmy Stafford still makes occasional appearances), and his voice and songwriting have come to define the Train sound. The band’s current tour is named after “Play That Song,” the lead single from A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat, and Train’s career has been defined by creating memorable songs, whether for rock or pop or adult contemporary listeners. “I think what I’m competing against is myself,” Monahan told Forbes when A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat was released. “I don’t really have anything to prove to anybody but me. I just want to keep thinking that I can do better work than I’ve ever done.”
MGM Grand, 8 p.m. May 12, $39.50-$89.50 plus tax and fee. 800.745.3000 Ticketmaster