Words by: Andrew Bruss :: Images by: Amanda Ryan Albion
Steel Train :: 08.19.07 :: Avalon Ballroom :: Boston, MA
Steel Train came through Boston's Avalon Ballroom, performing a short but to-the-point gig for a crowd of kids who showed up on their Sunday afternoon primarily to see The Format headline a lengthy bill. Plenty had changed since the group of Jew-fro'ed rockers from Jersey last played Boston. After the departure of auxiliary guitarist Mathew Goldman, and drummer Matthias Gruber, Steel Train was forced to reorganize themselves as a touring entity before heading into the studio to follow up 2005's Twilight Tales from the Prairies of the Sun. Reorganize they did, as they welcomed Jon Shiffman (drums) and long-time friend and tour manager Daniel Silbert (guitar) into the group.
| Steel Train :: 08.19|
After the changes the group had gone through, it was apparent to every Steel Train fan in attendance that we would be seeing them perform in a new, and hopefully improved, context that would speak to the direction the group is headed. We wondered how would their new material sound? What impact would the loss of their band mates have on their performance? And what effect would the group's new members incorporate into Steel Train's onstage dynamic?
Within moments, Jack Antonoff, Steel Train's vocalist, songwriter and guitarist, drove the band into a blistering set that answered all of these questions. They kicked off with a new tune called "Alone on the Sea," which they've gradually developed over several tours, and will be included on their forthcoming October release, Trampoline. The song started with a U2-ish guitar riff and pointed to the more radio-ready sound Antonoff is currently exploring.
As the set progressed, it became clear that Steel Train wasn't interested in dishing out material from Twilight Tales. Tonight was going to be about looking forward, and as a result, five out of the six songs they performed were unreleased tunes that even the most diehard Steel Train fans found unfamiliar. This is not to say they were met coldly. In fact, things were far from cold. New songs like "I Feel Weird" demonstrated Antonoff's newfound prowess for writing with a poppier flavor that places far less emphasis on the instrumental parts highlighted on older tunes like "Gypsy Waves." More than that, the lyrically-oriented tunes even seemed to be written from the voice of a different writer.
| Antonoff - Steel Train :: 08.19|
The material off of Twilight Tales was written during what Antonoff described to JamBase as a "really dark period" in his life, and as a result "the songwriting was really depressing." Several songs on the record reference his much-publicized breakup with actress Scarlet Johanson, and "Catch You On The Other Side" was written about the death of Antonoff's sister when he was a teenager.
This time around, Antonoff found himself writing with a "much brighter outlook, and a much bigger reflection" of where he's at right now. He clearly harnessed this outlook to pen material that's "way louder, way bigger, way more concise and way more to the point [that] we're trying to get across."
Beyond the emotional outlook of their singer, the most visible differences in their performance came from their newest members. During previous performances, the group's former drummer kept the beat with a jazzy vibe that seemed to lag a bit behind the rock-out energy that Steel Train champions. However, their new drummer utilized a more simplistic yet explosive approach to beat keeping that couldn't have fit the band's sound more naturally. Add to that the sheer thrill on the face of their new guitarist as he shared a mic with bassist Evan Winiker and it wasn't hard to understand why Antonoff's writing has been more upbeat.
| Steel Train :: 08.19|
The set closed with a stimulating run through an unreleased track called "Firecracker" that welcomed members from every other band on the bill to the stage. The performance embodied what Winiker jokingly described as "like The Last Waltz, but without all of the legendary musicians."
Through and through, Steel Train gave Boston an update on their current format and a qualitative understanding behind where they plan to take things next. As short as the performance was they managed to give their fans a mission statement on their future. Whether or not you've followed the group much in the past, based on their performance in Boston, now is most certainly the time to tune in.
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