By Jeremy Walsh
ArtsPost staff writer
Had the audience craved a night of sitting down, listening to slow, repetitive country songs in a quaint venue, Last Train Home would have given a lifetime performance Feb. 27 at The Barns at Wolf Trap.
Unfortunately, it seemed the audience wanted to get up and dance to the band’s more upbeat, powerful country ballads. As a result, the hour and a half show seemed bland, dragging agonizingly into the night.
Many audience members, predominately in their 30s and 40s at a sold-out performance, swayed back and forth in their seats, bopping their heads or waving their arms, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to jump up and really get into the show.
Lead singer and band founder Eric Brace acknowledged this desire midway through the show by saying he understood their pain, and declaring that the quaint design of The Barns almost required the band to perform its slower songs.
It was fair for Brace to argue that The Barns is designed for controlled concerts with artists who perform slower music, considering the venue seats around 400 people and hosts primarily jazz, folk and acoustic acts.
Still, it would have made the concert exciting and memorable if the band had broken The Barns trend and played some of its loud, emotional songs. But Last Train Home didn’t take that chance, making their concert just another show.
One troubling aspect about their slow set was that most of their songs sounded too similar. Most of the songs, such as “Sally,” “Last Good Kiss” and “Drinking from a Swimming Pool,” did not seem to differentiate themselves from one another, dragging down the show’s quality by not capitalizing on the variety of the band’s song collection.
Perhaps the bands most engaging song of the evening was “Tranquility Base,” which asks astronaut Neil Armstrong what it was like walking on the moon. The song itself was another slow song, but the originality of the lyrics and song idea stood out. Brace also gave a fascinating introduction to the song, explaining its inception and the research he did before writing it, which Brace said focused on understanding why Armstrong hasn’t often spoken publicly about his experience on the moon.
Other than with “Tranquility Base,” the band did not perform especially engaging songs. This could be traced to the fact the band members had never performed together as a whole.
Last Train Home is comprised of several full-time members, who generally always travel with the band, and other regional players, who play with the band depending on a concert’s location. The band this night appeared unfamiliar with each other at times, compelling Brace to walk around the stage giving instructions or suggestions to his band members.
Another addition to the band for the evening was Peter Cooper, who served as both opening act and occasional duet singer and guitar player during the main act. Cooper and Brace are longtime friends, who both started as music journalists (Brace being a former critic for The Washington Post) before shifting interests to focus primarily on producing music.
As opening act, Cooper performed lively and engaging songs. Some were fun, like “Sheboygan,” his ode to drinking in Wisconsin, and some were informative and heart-breaking like “715 (For Hank Aaron),” his homage to the former home run king’s difficult path to breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record.
In truth, Cooper gave a more complete performance as opening act than Last Train Home gave as main act. Cooper’s diverse song set activated the audience’s interest, getting them ready for a night of more engaging country music.
For some reason, Last Train Home was just unable to capitalize on the energetic crowd, and though they appeared entertained throughout the main set, it was clear the audience wanted and expected more from the band.