Train and Maroon 5 are a bit like Styx and Journey in their heyday.
They specialize in mainstream pop aimed at suburbanites, churn out radio hits that also frequently double as prom and/or wedding songs and feature charismatic frontmen (Styx fans can argue their favorite between Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw).
Whether any of their songs might one day become immortalized on a TV show – a la “The Sopranos” or “South Park” – well, we’ll see.
But at Thursday’s show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, both bands (as well as opener Matt Nathanson) energetically wooed a sold-out crowd that wasn’t shy about its affinity for the beer line.
In fact, it was just as well for many still stuck in the cattle call when Maroon 5 arrived, opening their set with the worst song in their catalog, the new “Moves Like Jagger,” a tuneless slice of disco nonsense that is barely made palatable on record by the presence of Christina Aguilera (and yet it’s the No. 1 song in the country this week).
With that obligation fulfilled, the band, fronted by the panther-like, crazily tattooed Adam Levine, was free to slash through a polished run of hits.
The primary benefit of these double bill shows is that they’re lean and economical. On stage for about an hour and 15 minutes each, Maroon 5 and Train had time only for the songs you want to hear, with zero filler.
Maroon 5 engaged with a stream including a crisp, edgy “Harder to Breathe,” which segued into a languid stroll through “Sunday Morning,” the first of many times Levine would demonstrate his impressive falsetto.
Thanks to the success of “The Voice,” Levine’s pretty mug has recently been in front of millions of eyeballs, meaning scads of new fans who might not have realized he was the “This Love” guy.
He played up his sexy bad-boy image, frequently leaning into the microphone stand in a seductive slouch and shaking a backside that often received more cheers than his frontside.
But he also maintained his vocal poise on “Makes Me Wonder,” “Never Gonna Leave This Bed” and a sinewy “Wake Up Call” that also featured some surprisingly nimble guitar work from the singer.
Though Levine is the stereotypical frontman focal, there are four other guys in the band (plus touring keyboardist PJ Morton, whom Levine pointed out is from Atlanta) creating Maroon 5’s slick, if sometimes soulless sound.
Jesse Carmichael (keyboards), James Valentine (guitar), Matt Flynn (drums) and Mickey Madden (bass) provided a musical backdrop that was technically flawless throughout the show, particularly on the snaky funk of “This Love.”
While Maroon 5 began its turn with a caffeinated dance number and ended with the sedate “She Will Be Loved,” Train took the opposite approach, launching with the innocuous “Parachute” and saving its adrenaline for the latter part of the show.
Like Levine, Pat Monahan of Train is the undisputed centerpiece of the band. And once you get past his ridiculous spiky hair, you remember that he truly is a terrific rock vocalist (don’t believe it? Check these out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IY_MIh-WoN4 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV42oU3QBwY&feature=related.
Whether spinning through the sweetly catchy “If It’s Love” – with both an awesome Winger reference in the lyrics and a photo of Poison flashed on the video screen – or donning a cowboy hat for a countrified romp through “She’s On Fire,” Monahan always went out of his way to connect with the crowd.
A coterie of women and kids (wearing cute Trainette T-shirts) came on stage to sing and dance through “Fire” in a bit that stalled the show’s momentum, but was undoubtedly a priceless memory for those fans. And when the band kicked into the soaring “Calling All Angels,” Monahan asked the audience members to raise their arms overhead for the “I won’t give up if you don’t give up” refrain, making the moment feel like a religious revival.
A highlight of Train’s set came when Monahan, guitarist Jimmy Stafford, drummer Scott Underwood and cellist/singer Ana Lenchantin played various percussion instruments and guitar for interesting covers of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and “U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” before the band returned to traditional form for a thoughtful rendition of Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” infusing the song with a touch of somberness.
But the band wasted no time sliding back into fun mode. As he sang the carefree end-of-summer strummer “Save Me, San Francisco,” Monahan scribbled his autograph on a handful of beach balls and lofted them into the throng of fans, a perfect primer for the upcoming inevitable singalong “Hey, Soul Sister.”
Maybe it could be their “Come Sail Away” or “Don’t Stop Believin’” after all.