Train has a local connection: original drummer Scott Underwood grew up in Saratoga Springs, where he played in the high school jazz band before graduating and moving out to California to join Train in the early 1990s.
Underwood is no longer in the long-running band, having left in 2014, but he was with them through their Grammy victory for perhaps their most recognizable single: “Hey, Soul Sister.”
On Sunday night, Train returned to Saratoga Performing Arts Center, with current drummer Drew Shoals rounding out the quartet led by cheery frontman Pat Monahan.
They may no longer be at the height of their popularity, but Train still packed the crowds in for their “Play that Song Tour 2017,” opened by special guests Natasha Bedingfield and O.A.R.
Old-school hip-hop hits like Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky” and House of Pain’s “Jump Around” played over the sound system to get the crowd into a festive mood before Train took the stage around 9:30 p.m., when colorful confetti and party streamers rained down from the amphitheater ceiling.
In front of a stage shaped like a jukebox, with mini screens that flashed cool geometric patterns, the all-black clad Train kicked off their 90-minute set with party anthem “Drink Up,” “If It’s Love” and tongue-in-cheek breakup tune “50 Ways to Say Goodbye,” which was boosted by a virtual mariachi band horn section on the backdrop video screen.
They’ve never been the most cerebral band, and it’s best to overlook dumber lyrics like those in “Drink Up”: “Write your name on a cup / Drink up, drink up.” But after over two decades, Train has no shortage of pop hits to draw from, and Monahan worked the crowd like a seasoned pro.
Western-tinged “Angel in Blue Jeans” had an unstoppably catchy chorus, as did “Save Me, San Francisco,” which was accompanied by beach balls bouncing all over the front rows of the amphitheater.
Wearing a gold and red maiden’s dress, Natasha Bedingfield appeared on stage to duet with Monahan on “Bruises,” and early single “Meet Virginia” drew cheers as did the irrepressibly upbeat “Drive By.” Monahan sat alone onstage with an acoustic guitar for the sparse proposal ballad “Marry Me,” and “Valentine” was played like a straight ‘50s doo wop number.
Before sending the crowd out into the muggy night, Train offered up a bongo-driven Paul Simon cover joined by O.A.R. (“You Can Call Me Al”), an ode to female empowerment (“Working Girl”), ubiquitous single “Hey, Soul Sister,” recent earworm hit “Play that Song,” Prince cover “Let’s Go Crazy” and show-closing ballad “Drops of Jupiter.”
After a well-received set of bouncy pop from British singer Bedingfield, including sunny hit “Unwritten,” O.A.R. took the stage. They’ve been together almost as long as Train, building their following while playing the fraternities and sororities of Ohio State University in the late 1990s.
They still have a bit of that frat house vibe, playing a blend of emo-pop and ska-light. It’s the horn section that gives the band its boost, especially trumpet player Jon Lampley, who grooved all over the stage on songs like “Peace” and “Shattered.” They closed with a sped-up rendition of Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” that may have been best left to the Piano Man.