Steel Train came out of New Jersey six years ago when they signed to Drive-Thru — the same label that brought us emo acts Dashboard Confessional and New Found Glory — but it quickly became apparent that band leader Jack Antonoff had something in mind that was different than the usual bashing guitars and overwrought vocals. For one thing, the band’s music was mostly acoustic in the early days. For another, Antonoff likes to write about weighty subjects, not just romantic disappointment. Their arrangements got more electric and bombastic as time went on, but not in the usual emo-punk ways.
By the time the band released the 9/11-haunted album Trampoline in 2007, they sounded as if they were aiming for headlining spots at stadium shows. Songs like “Alone on the Sea” had ringing guitars and sweeping choruses that suggested U2.
So, the anthemic sound is there, but the headlining stadium tours haven’t quite materialized — yet. Still, Steel Train has played to big crowds at Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza, and they have amassed an impressive group of friends and supporters. The band started their own record label, Terrible Thrills, to release their third album, Steel Train, last year. Accompanying it was Terrible Thrills, Vol. 1, a collection of covers of each of the self-titled album’s 12 tracks as performed by artists such as Tegan and Sara, Scarlett Johansson, Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls), Anna Waronker (That Dog), and Charlotte Caffey (the Go-Go’s). Essentially, Steel Train got big-name female artists to perform a tribute to Steel Train. As a publicity stunt, that’s equal parts self-aggrandizing and brilliant.
The Get Up Kids and River City Extension also perform.
STEEL TRAIN: House of Blues, Wednesday, January 26, 6 p.m. 619-299-2583. $17.50.