Monday, October 1, 2012

Train, Mat Kearney, Andy Grammer concert review: Los Angeles

A version of my review originally appeared at

Over the past decade, Train, Mat Kearney and Andy Grammer have landed a couple dozen top 20 singles at Adult Top 40 radio between them. Several have crossed over to the mainstream pop charts.
Train’s solid sixth studio album California 37 finds the Bay Area trio adding more diverse sonic strains (mariachi, Latin, hip-hop) to their usual pop/rock framework. Recently, the guys were the subject of a new VH1 “Behind the Music” episode.   
Inside a packed Nokia Theater on Saturday night, Train got the spirited 80-minute show off to a festive start with humorous current hit “50 Ways to Say Goodbye,” as gorgeous waterfall-styled graphics were projected on the backdrop and a trumpeter provided brass flourishes. Other auxiliary musicians onstage included tour keyboardist Jerry Becker and bassist Hector Maldonado (one of those distracting fish-eye lens cameras was attached to the latter’s instrument), plus two female backing vocalists that fleshed out selected songs.
Charismatic front man Pat Monahan apologized for having a raspy voice as the three-month U.S. tour winds down (in Phoenix tonight), yet any shortcomings were barely noticeable. His rapid-fire delivery on “This’ll Be My Year” was impressive. The rousing tune - which deftly ties a courtship and the band’s career path to world events from the ‘80s to the present – picks up the baton from Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” 
Making a generous effort to immerse fans in the concert experience, Monahan ably juggled his singing duties with constantly snapping cell phone pictures for those in the front row (and his own Twitter account). A dozen young girls were invited up to dance and help sing on “Mermaids” (most were too nervous). Some concertgoers were tossed t-shirts and beach balls, which Monahan dutifully signed. Then toward show’s end, a teenage boy was given a signed acoustic guitar and allowed to sit on the drum riser with it. 
The band sounded tight on the “I Got You” mashup with the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water.” Doing a medley of songs from the first four albums – including a soulful “When I Look to the Sky” chorus and bit of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” after their own selection of the same name - was a curious move. Still, it was fairly seamless.
“Calling All Angels,” the theme to our Angels baseball team’s pre-game highlights montage, was given a strange revamp. Here, it contained newly added trumpet, a bit of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” a short psychedelic breakdown from guitarist Jimmy Stafford and prompts for the audience to raise their hands in the air. Monahan got to show off some rare saxophone work during “Mermaids.”
Aussie actress/singing sensation Delta Goodrem guested on the endearing folk duet “Bruises,” about rekindling an old relationship after a high school reunion. She provided a deeper, sultrier tone than Pistol Annies’ Ashley Monroe, who appears on the album.
Keeping with the stripped down, acoustic guitar-based vibe, Monahan inquired whether anyone wanted to get engaged or hitched before the tender ballad “Marry Me” (fans have taken him up on the offer at other shows, but none did here).
Elsewhere, Train did a satisfactory take on fellow San Francisco group Sly & Family Stone’s “Everyday People” with Maldonado on lead vocals. The excitement level rose for the multi million-selling juggernaut “Hey, Soul Sister” (appended with a snatch of fun.’s “We Are Young”) and “Drive By” – both full-bodied singalongs.
For the encores, Train did the slinky hip-hop of “California 37” and the ebullient “Drops of Jupiter,” accompanied by a stunning Milky Way visual. At the end, Monahan asked if people could feel the love. The answer was a resounding “yes.”
The opening acts battled with a muddy bass mix that often buried their vocals and everything else. Kearney was more fortunate of the two. His earnest 45-minute opening set was leavened by several fun songs from last year’s underrated studio effort “Young Love.” Highlights included the beat boxing-meets-children’s rhymes of “You Can Count on Me” and on “Ships in the Night,” a stately, atmospheric piano ballad with rap style vocals. At one point, Kearney ran around the venue. He brought an audience member onstage to add percussion to a song and showed off his impressive freestyling skills amid “Undeniable.” An uplifting “Young, Dumb and In Love” and highly infectious “Hey Mama” recalled Paul Simon’s 1980s African-inspired music period. Kearney paid tribute to other pop/rock legends too: there was a snatch of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” and a straightforward take on “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen, who he told me was an influence during a Soundcheck interview last spring. 
Newcomer Grammer, who got his start busking at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade a few years ago, was an enthusiastic presence at Nokia. The half hour performance saw him move from acoustic guitar to keyboards with ease during songs from the 2011 Jason Mraz-styled self-titled debut. Current hit “Miss Me” displayed his high flying vocal range; a cover of Rihanna’s “We Found Love” prompted a crowd singalong. Grammer also made a foray into the audience and closed with the earworms “Fine by Me” and “Keep Your Head Up.”  
Train, Nokia Theater at L.A. Live, Sept. 29, 2012
Setlist: 50 Ways to Say Goodbye/This’ll Be My Year/If It’s Love/Meet Virginia/I Got You/Medley: Free>Respect>She’s on Fire>Get to Me>When I Look to the Sky/Ordinary/For Me, It’s You/Calling All Angels/Save Me San Francisco/Mermaid/Bruises/Marry Me/Everyday People/Hey, Soul Sister/Drive By
Encore: California 37/Drops of Jupiter

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