Train RodeoHouston, Reliant Stadium March 16, 2012
Halfway through their Friday night show at the Houston Rodeo Train decided to host a dance-off. It was, much like their booking as rodeo entertainment, a noble but unsuccessful experiment.
A year ago, the idea of Train as rodeo entertainment wouldn't have seemed far-fetched. It might even have been a feel-good story: The little band that everyone had forgotten about finishes their comeback year in front of 70,000 in Reliant Stadium.
Unfortunately Train just isn't a band built to play stadiums. Their hearts might have been in the right place, but they didn't have the energy or the catalogue to deliver a stadium-sized show.
Things were shaky from the start. "If It's Love" is a perfectly acceptable adult pop song, but there was a noticeable drop in energy from the end of the post-rodeo fireworks and the start of the song. Most of the songs in their set had that problem: they might be good on the radio but they don't fill a stadium.
Maybe the band knew that would be an issue. That might explain why their set was peppered with moments geared more toward winning over the audience as opposed to giving them a good performance.
A medley of classic rock songs arrived early in the set. First up was "Ramble On"; weird choice, but it's not hard to believe that the band are Led Zeppelin fans. Next up was a brief bit of "Walk On The Wild Side"; another weird choice but kind of edgy. How many times do you get a Lou Reed song at the rodeo?
Then came "Don't Stop Believing." It probably seemed like a good idea: It's a song that everybody knows and most people like.
Unfortunately for the band, by the time the song came to the big singalong singer Patrick Monahan was so winded from running around the stadium that he couldn't quite hit the high notes the way he should have. It killed the momentum of the song and of the show. It was something that could have been really cool that just sort of fizzled out.
And then there was the previously mentioned dance-off.
The idea itself wasn't necessarily outrageous: You get pretty girls up onstage, one of them wins a guitar, and you look super-cool in the process.
What happened was a bunch of confused girls got on stage, three of them danced awkwardly while the others just sort of stood there, and then they were lead in an awkward singalong. The entire thing was an overlong disaster that didn't help the band or the girls involved.
That's not to say the show was without positive moments. "Meet Virginia" might have started off slow, but by the time the band hit the solo they were firing on all cylinders, and for a moment it seemed like they might really be able to pull off a big stadium show.
When they stuck to their slower, more adult-oriented pop tracks the band was solid. "Drops Of Jupiter" might not be a song to fill a stadium but it's not a bad song and at least the band sounds earnest when they sing it.
The same can not be said for their current single "Drive By" which isn't any better live. It's the type of song a band writes after it has some accidental success and isn't sure how to recreate it. They tried to make it sound more upbeat and exciting by giving it a flashy light show but like the rest of the song it fell flat.
I don't believe Train is a bad band, I just believe they were in over their heads. Watching Monahan run around Reliant Stadium, winded but still trying to hit the high notes provides a pretty obvious visual metaphor for the band: they're going to try their best to prove they belong even if they don't always succeed.
At the end of "Calling All Angels" Monahan sings "I won't give up if you don't give up". And you can tell they won't. They'll continue to put out records and play shows. Just maybe not at the rodeo.
Personal Bias: I won't change the station if "Hey, Soul Sister" comes on, but I wouldn't grab it on iTunes either.
The Crowd: An above-average amount of soccer moms for a Friday night.
Overheard In The Crowd: "But the other one was better!" - Apparently someone was really upset the Super Sexy Trainette beat out the Funky Spice Trainette for the autographed guitar. I'm inclined to agree.
Random Notebook Dump: The combo of facepaint and numbered jerseys make rodeo clowns look like juggalos.
If It's Love Meet Virginia Drive By Ramble On/Walk On The Wild Side/Don't Stop Believing She's On Fire Calling All Angels Save Me, San Francisco Marry Me Hey, Soul Sister Drops Of Jupiter