Train has come a long way since their inception in 1994, their sound, style,and overall presence has grown tremendously, yet one thing remains, their love for San Francisco. To kick off Train’s 2012 San Francisco tour, the band chose to play the extremely intimate and lively Cafe du Nord, this made for an out-of-sight tour opener. Train came on at 10pm and barely took a breath until 12:15am, over two hours of non-stop entertainment, and I mean entertainment.

Photo by Daniel Chan (from previous Bay Area appearance)

It was overwhelmingly evident that the entire band was stoked to be back in SF; there was playful banter, great band chemistry and tons of great music. Patrick Monahan, on lead vocals, was charismatic and funny, and he even grabbed the harmonica, saxaphone and drums for a few of the tracks. And right by his side was Jimmy Stafford, on lead guitar, who was really able to get the crowd going with his suave yet high-powered performance. Hector Maldonado was all smiles and Scott Underwood on drums remained focused and consistent. Rounding out the group was Jerry Becker on keyboards and guitar.

The show was a success from many angles, but the primary force of the show can be summed up in two words; audience participation. This was not a “sit back and sip your beer” audience… the crowd knew the words of the songs well and were not shy to sing along. Even better, as pointed out by the band, they were singing on key! Monahan gave the crowd ample opportunities for acapella singing, and at times the show felt more like a rally than a rock concert. Picture an early Springsteen concert, substituting audience angst with audience jubilation. The energy lasted for over two hours of non-stop playing, joking, and on-stage audience participation. Whether this synergy was due to the intimate nature of the tiny du Nord venue, that it was the first show of the SF tour, or that the band was just happy to be back in San Francisco, is unclear… but the feeling was palpable.

The new “California 37” songs came off as rap-infused pop hits with lots of potential as “summer hits”. The band played “California 37″, a rousing “This’ll Be My Year”, the Caribbean/Calypso-infused “Mermaid” (destined to be a pop hit), a tender duet of “Bruises” with Megan pulled from the audience, “50 Ways to Say Goodbye”, and “Drive By” (with the audience singing at the top of their lungs) off the soon-to-be-released album.

Older favorites included “Homesick” (from Train’s eponymous debut album), “Something More” (from “Drops of Jupiter”), Getaway (Drops of Jupiter), “I Am” (“Train”) (with Monahan on harmonica). Sing-along favorites included the audience-belted out classics: Calling all Angels (“My Private Nation”), “Save Me San Francisco” (“Save Me San Francisco”), and “Hey Soul Sister” (“Save Me San Francisco”). Monahan belted out “Days” (from “Train”), infusing it with a bit of a comic slant doing his best Eddie Vedder/Pearl Jam impression. The band skipped the traditional encore break and went straight into their final two audience-duets with the grammy award winning “Drops of Jupiter” (Tell Me) (from “Drops of Jupiter”) and “Meet Virginia” (“Train”).

As Train’s sold-out tour continues across San Francisco, they will be playing tonight at Great American Music Hall, followed by Bimbo’s, Slim’s, Independent, and The Fillmore, all of which are not too large and are sure to be packed, wall to wall with singing fans and great music.

* Stream the entire “California 37” album for a limited time here: http://cdn.shazam.com/brita/train.html