The Fray/Train tour rolled into Kansas City on Friday night like a locomotive, delivering familiar sights and sounds.
A crowd of more than 7,500 nearly filled Starlight Theatre to see two bands that have been frequent visitors to Kansas City. It was Train’s fourth appearance at Starlight since 2011; it was the third for the Fray, who headlined at Starlight in June 2014.
Fans were still driving into the venue and strolling in from the parking lots during the opening set by Matt Nathanson. The Fray followed him with an hourlong set of songs plucked from a catalog that goes back 10 years.
They opened with “Heartbeat,” a track from “Scars & Stories,” released in 2012. Like most of the Fray’s songs, it brims with a warm pleasantness and bears no sharp edges or the slightest sign of menace. Despite the band’s name, there is nothing combative about its music.
Isaac Slade is an earnest frontman with a voice and personae that suits his band’s mainstream ballads and anthems about love, romance and the heartache that often ensues. He switched from guitar to piano to nothing but the microphone throughout the set, venturing deep into the crowd during one song.
A few times, including “Rainy Zurich” and “Wherever This Goes,” multi-instrumentalist Joe King took over lead vocals or shared them with Slade.
The set list included a cover of A-ha’s “Take on Me” that stayed true to the original, a worthwhile cover of Patsy Cline’s “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and the Fray’s two biggest hits, “How to Save a Life” and “Over My Head (Cable Car),” both of which aroused some hearty singing along from a crowd that was clearly primed for the headliner.
House of Pain’s “Jump Around” was throbbing through the P.A. system when the sound of a train’s whistle signaled Train’s entrance. Lead singer Pat Monahan is 46 but pulls off acting like a guy half his age. Throughout the 90-minute set he showed off his impressive vocal range and interacted enthusiastically with his fans.
During “Meet Virginia,” he launched T-shirts into the crowd, including one he and the rest of the band signed with a Sharpie as they were performing. He performed “Bruises” with a local singer, a teenager named Joanie (I think). Before a cover of “The Loco-Motion,” he filled the stage with preschoolers and elementary-schoolers, who delivered a big waft of cute.
After that, Nathanson and Slade joined Monahan for a cover of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” that aimed for the Joe Cocker version but missed the bull’s-eye.
Train’s music, like the Fray’s, is all about the surfaces and cosmetics. A lot of their songs are catchy, some are groovy, but the lyrics are typically above-the-belt, asexual, non-penetrating. It makes for a family-friendly show, and there were many families in the venue.
The crowd was engaged all night but it responded most heartily to Train’s many hits: “Drive By,” “Hey, Soul Sister,” “Meet Virginia” and “Calling All Angels” started widespread singing.
But the loudest response came during the three-song encore, which included a cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and Train’s biggest hit, “Drops of Jupiter.” Both are songs everyone in the place has heard dozens of times, but that’s what this show was all about: familiarity and the contentment it often arouses.
The Fray: Heartbeat; Closer to Me; Take On Me; Give It Away; You Found Me; Hurricane; Never Say Never; Rainy Zurich; Keep On Wanting; Wherever This Goes; Just a Closer Walk With Thee; Be Still; How To Save A Life; Our Last Days; Over My Head (Cable Car); Love Don’t Die.
Train: Just A Memory; 50 Ways to Say Goodbye; If It’s Love; Angel In Blue Jeans; Meet Virginia; Free; Freedom 90; When I Look to the Sky; Calling All Angels; Bruises; Save Me, San Francisco; Wonder What You’re Doing For the Rest Of Your Life; the Loco-Motion; With a Little Help From My Friends; Give It All; Marry Me; Hey, Soul Sister; Drive By. Encore: Bulletproof Picasso; Dream On; Drops of Jupiter.