By Elise Lundstrom
ArtsPost staff writer
Have you ever been to a rock concert where everyone sits down the whole time? I hadn’t until I saw “Last Train Home” perform at the Barns at Wolf Trap this Winter. As the band takes the stage, each member gets his instrument ready; the seven band members say nothing but start in their first number “Tonight,” getting the music going right away. We don’t even get an introduction until after the seventh number. I found myself wondering when songs would end and forgetting what each song had originally been about.
Eric Brace, the lead singer and founder of “Last Train Home”, is the heart of the band, leading them in every number and communicating to the band when each should have their solo. And solo they did, every musician, perhaps excluding the drummer, had a solo in each song that was performed. This made every number long, a little too long. You could feel the disappointment if the crowd, mostly made up of 30-somethings and up, with a few younger fans sprinkled in, who all seemed to be familiar with “Last Train Home’s” music.
However, the length of the songs did showcase the immense talent pool the band had united for this particular show. The audience had the feeling that this concert is a “jam session” of roots rock at its finest. As is often the case with “Last Train Home”, the more regular members of the band, Eric Brace lead guitar and vocals, Jim Gray electric bass, Scott McKnight electric guitar and Paul Griffith drums are supplemented by other artists at each venue, some of whom have never played with the band before.
Dave Van Allen, who had worked with the band before and “came all the way down from Pennsylvania,” was on steel guitar; Michael Webb, who has played with many other country music stars such as Shania Twain, played accordion, electric guitar, keyboard and tambourine; and David Coleman played electric guitar. Peter Cooper, who opened for the band, also played with them in a number of their songs.
“Last Train Home” is a band completely in love with its own music. They seem lost in the music as they play each song. Most of the songs were slower, which Brace chalked up to the fact the barn had seats and people couldn’t really move around. Blaming it on the venue? The Barns at Wolf Trap is like a rustic church with its exposed beams and rich red curtains drawn to expose the stage. Perhaps it is geared to those patrons who need to sit down.
This seemed to be both all right and yet disappointing to the audience. Applause and cheers followed each song, but you could feel a restlessness because standing seemed inappropriate for the venue.
The most memorable song from the night was “Tranquility Base,” about Neil Armstrong, a man who has not talked much about his historic moonwalk since 1969. Brace said “coagulated into a song” out of questions the band had for Armstrong. During the number a moon was projected behind the band on the wall.
The song left the audience silent for a moment, contemplating the “glorious, beautiful, frightening or sad” that Armstrong must have seen, then erupting into applause. It left me will goose bumps.
At the conclusion of the show, “Last Train Home” played “Darlin Say” and the crowd, was clapping along, and some stood up and danced to the beat. The band was coaxed back onstage for an encore of two songs that had most, finally, on their feet.
Overall, the band had some great moments but was underwhelming. The band’s musical talents were obviously substantial, but the audience wanted more excitement. The majority of slower, similar sounding numbers gave the performance a drawn out and confused feel. Perhaps the Barns was not the correct venue for “Last Train Home.”
Peter Cooper was the “special guest” of “Last Train Home,” opening for them with his story telling songs and humor. He delighted the audience with his autobiographical opener “Dumb Luck” detailing some humorous and important events of his early life.
His acoustic guitar seemed secondary to his vocals but complementary. His work has spoken elements in addition to sung lyrics and the two meld beautifully to make you listen and think about what Cooper has to tell you. “The Man Who Loves to Hate” is one of these songs that really makes you pay attention, and “715 (For Hank Aaron)” is a tale of the struggles the baseball great overcame and notes the illogical nature of racism.
Cooper was a hit as an opener and a musician in his own right. The audience wished his lighthearted and humorous melodies had continued on.
Cooper and Brace have been friends for a long time, share a background in music reporting and reviewing. They have collaborated in the past and have an album out “Eric Brace and Peter Cooper You Don’t Have to Like Them Both” that has been out for about a year.
Eric Brace and “Last Train Home” will be back in the D.C. area May 21 in Arlington, performing at the IOTA at 9 p.m.