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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Live Review, 4/10/12: Train at Cafe Du Nord: Seven Good Things About the Band's Intimate Return to S.F.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 8:38 AM

Train at Cafe Du Nord last night.
  • Train at Cafe Du Nord last night.

Train

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cafe Du Nord

Better than: The Train show you are imagining.

Having said pretty much every mean thing that could be honestly said about Train -- and having believed every word of it -- let us now say this: Train played a small, sold-out show at Cafe Du Nord last night, and it was not completely terrible.

It was not "good," either, if "good" is to mean exciting, challenging, intriguing, adventurous, or resembling anything other than tepid, steam-cleaned pop-rock. The band's songs are still soaked through with agonizing cliches, flabbergastingly lazy rhyme schemes, and ripped-off choruses. That wasn't gonna change. But if by "good" we mean competent, professional, humanizing, and satisfying to the intended audience, then Train's show last night -- the first of a week-long charm offensive in which the band will play small San Francisco clubs to promote new album California 37 -- was undoubtedly a success.

Since we've spent so much time being negative about Train, let's do the opposite this time. Here are seven things about last night's show that were -- ah, we're struggling to say this! -- good.

train_head_back_du_nord.jpg

7. Patrick Monahan's self-deprecation

We aren't being snarky here: On this small stage and in this small room, Train was able to seem far more human than it does when one of its songs is being pummeled into your head for the fortieth time that week. This was in large part due to Monahan's self-deprecation behind the mic: He began by mocking his inability to remember song lyrics, and continued chastising himself for that all through the show. We're also going to go ahead and assume that he was only belittling his own brain power when, after a fan announced that she'd traveled from Sri Lanka to be here, Monahan said, "Sri Lanka? Is that a place? I thought that was a drink!" And later, mentioning his affection for Cafe Du Nord's modest stage, Monahan quipped, "This is where I learned how to be an asshole." The next thing on your agenda, Train, should be a Funny or Die video.

train_giants_tee.jpg

6. The band merch

Okay, so the Train shirt stylized like an S.F. Giants tee will make some of the baseball club's fans livid. But A), the team deserves that for having Train play its season opener last year; and B), also for sale was a postcard-poster celebrating this week's intimate shows with art-deco-style images of local venues that were, we have to admit, really cool-looking.

train_venue_poster.jpg

5. The crowd

Unless you are made purely out of cynicism, watching people bask in the live presence of music they love is always fun. Last night, Cafe Du Nord was sold-out -- although not terribly full-seeming -- with lots of middle-aged ladies who were ready to get down to Train. Screw that it's Tuesday night: After a few cocktails, the fans started twirling around, playing air drums, shouting every word, and generally behaving as if this was the best, wildest time they'd had in decades. Which it very well could have been. Good for them.

4. Patrick Monahan's sax playing

The skinny dude at the helm of the Train can deliver some panty-dropping soul from the ol' tenor sax, as he demonstrated on a couple of songs last night. It was like KFOG had a jam session with KKSF. We had no idea he could do this. (Maybe because the band's songs -- at least the ones that going out in public forces us to hear -- are always lurching from overly wordy verse to infantile chorus, leaving no time for instrumental breaks.)

Train with fans from Australia and Sri Lanka
  • Train with fans from Australia and Sri Lanka

3. Train's singer moving back to S.F.

After bailing on the Bay Area for a posh Seattle suburb, Patrick Monahan has returned to the city after which the band named its last album. And although he poured on the hometown affection a little thick last night ("Only San Francisco could sing that good!"), we left grudgingly convinced that his stated love for the city was indeed sincere. "I would like to say, this is the most amazing city in the world," Monahan announced onstage toward the end of the show. "Now I've got a spot in the Presidio... I ran into the dude who founded Pandora today." He seemed genuinely awestruck.

2. Patrick Monahan's singing ability

We are only going to say this once: Dude has some pipes. They wore out a little toward the end of the show, but the power, clarity, and range of Monahan's vocals early on (especially compared with his low speaking tone) was impressive. Really.

1. Some of Train's songs

When they weren't being force-fed to us -- and when we weren't letting things like lyrics spoil the pleasure -- we found ourselves enjoying some Train songs. Yep, like the almost-rock of breezy new single "Drive By" (especially the line in the chorus "They don't like it/ Sue me"); the first-ever radio song (and show closer) "Meet Virginia"; "Bruises," for which Train brought out local singer Megan Slankard; and even "Drops of Jupiter," the band's breakout hit and still probably the most tasteful of its big singles. Of course we could only grit our teeth through "Save Me, San Francisco," and especially "Hey, Soul Sister," (as the room erupted in cheers and elated singalong and peering cameraphones). But that was to be expected. The degree to which we liked the others was not.

Naturally, Train's Drops of Jupiter wine was for sale at Du Nord last night.
  • Naturally, Train's Drops of Jupiter wine was for sale at Du Nord last night.

Critic's Notebook

By the way: After requesting press tickets to cover this show, Train's publicist called to ask me why the hell someone who had written such "vicious" (her word) things about the band would want to cover its show, and what exactly did I have in mind. I told her that having criticized the band so much, we owed it to Train (a local group, after all), to give its upcoming shows a chance, and that I'd try to go in with as open a mind as possible. Did I succeed in that? I'm sure you will let me know in the comments.

Also: Train is playing all this week at small S.F. clubs, but the shows are all sold out.

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Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Ian S. Port @iPORT, and like us at Facebook.com/SFAllShookDown.

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Ian S. Port

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