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Train pleases fans by staying on track to roots-rock sound

Nice. Agreeable. Inoffensive. These are words that could describe the music of Train, a band that has found massive success over the years with a polished roots-rock sound that is somewhere between early Counting Crows, trite '80s prom themes and middle-period Counting Crows.

Marked by chiming guitars, hummable melodies, vaguely poetic lyrics and overreaching vocals, it's no surprise that the San Francisco band's formula is beloved by many, evidenced by the loose, grateful audience that took in its set Tuesday night in the Town Ballroom.

A tight, well-organized quintet that includes three original members -- singer Pat Monahan, guitarist Jimmy Stafford and drummer Scott Underwood -- Train delivered a performance that was as shiny and calculated as its singles, delivering the hooks that people paid to hear accurately and cleanly, without making much of a fuss about it. Although Monahan tried to inject some energy in the room a few times, bringing audience members on stage and cracking playful between-song jokes, the rest of the group did their business nonchalantly, exuding a lack of fire and ambition that fit the material they were playing perfectly.

Opening with "Parachute," a track off its fifth and most recent record, "Save Me San Francisco," the band showed that it didn't mess with its sound all that much in the three years in between "Save Me . . ." and its predecessor. A slick, methodical love song centered on a cliche ("we'll hit the ground running"), it played like a Van Morrison ballad with its guts scooped out, in favor of a gloppy, Maroon 5 sheen.

And the modern rock/R&B hybrids didn't stop there, even though the band's strengths lie in dishing out radio-friendly pop nuggets, not in any form of blue-eyed soul. "Get to Me," a track off Train's 2003 disc "My Private Nation," took a labored funk groove and paired it with Monahan's calls for his love to "ride on the back of a butterfly."

"She's On Fire" was a similar attempt at commercialized funk-rock, until the band threw on cowboy hats and turned the whole thing into a speedy country hoedown -- a merciful change of pace and an unexpected example of the band doing something, well, unexpected.

As the set progressed, and crowd-pleasers like the Counting Crows-lite ballad "Meet Virginia" and the straight-up Richard Marx rip-off, "When I Look to the Sky," kept dropping left and right, Train's fans cheered wildly and followed Monahan's bidding -- even quieting down enough to let him sing the first verse of "Sky" sans mic.

If you're looking for some kind of transformative experience from your music, Train is not the band to turn to. But if you're looking for something nice and unchallenging, with nothing experimental, metaphorical or political (unless you count Richard Marxism), then hop on, brother.



With Butch Walker.

Tuesday evening in the Town Ballroom.

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