Josh Groban Concert Awake Tour
February 28, 2007
By Kindah Mardam Bey
The John Labatt Centre was the place to be Monday, as Josh Groban performed at the sixth venue on his Awake tour, to a packed house. A diverse crowd of thousands attended; ages present ranged from an elderly couple in front of me to two screaming teenagers behind me, who, about the side ramps on either side of the stage, exclaimed, “If Josh gets that close to me I’ll just die!”
Even before Groban electrified the stage, opening act Angelique Kidjo brought her afropop, caribbean zouk, and congolese rumba, style of music to the forefront. Kidjo, originally from Benin, in West Africa, didn’t seem to mind our freezing Canadian climate, as she brought the warmth and joy of the music Africa is known for to the Labatt Centre. Kidjo was full of energy, with an illuminating voice and a hypnotizing rhythmn to her songs that got the crowd in an even more excited mood as she crooned, “I want everyone to have fun while they are alive, because once you’re dead, it’s too late!”
An intermission took place after Kidjo, for some set changes, but when the lights went down and the curtain rose, ticket holders were welcomed to Groban’s first hit off his Awake CD, “You Are Loved”. Setting a romantic mood for the evening, the song was powerful, and his voice flooded the arena.
The stage was built like a crescent moon on a slant. At the top of the crescent was the London orchestra, and seperated by a small ramp divide, Groban’s band were primarily the centre of the stage and Groban sang in front, with a magical piano rising out of the floor periodically. The stage was simply composed, with both large and small screens at the back and overhead, which showed nature’s beauty: images of the desert, the ocean, or red and orange hues of a sunset. Groban was casually dressed in dark jeans, a rock n’ roll black t-shirt and a black blazer with military detailing. He did one clothing change into an oversized soft blue shirt with vest overtop about halfway through the concert. His accessory was his five o’clock shadow.
No need for anything over the top, this was a simple stage, and an understated costume, but a powerful, crisp and emotive voice. No lip-synching at this performance; Groban sung his heart out. Even when his microphone temporarily cut out and needed replacing, Groban was still trying to sing so that as many people could hear the end of the song. What was even more amazing about his vocals was his perfect pitch for every song. If you want to feel like you’ve gone to a Groban concert, simply put on his Awake CD full blast and you will experience the same quality of vocals he brings to the stage.
Groban performed almost all of his songs from Awake, as well as covering his Herbie Hancock collaboration with “Machine”, the Imogen Heap collaboration “Now or Never”, his newest single “February Song”, “So She Dances”, and the “Romeo & Juliet” theme song. He also infused the Awake tour with some of his previous hits like “Remember When It Rained”, and even threw in a musical theatre homage a la Sweeney Todd.
Groban joked throughout the performance, exemplifying his pleasure at being on stage and loving the work that he does, with statements like, “this arena is named after a beer after all, I must have had some Labatt before the performance,” and then, overacting some beer swilling and grunting, Josh crushed an imaginary beer can on his head and said, “Okay, let’s do this concert thing.” Poking fun at his squeaky clean image throughout the performance, which was hard not to notice as he signed autographs on stage while performing, and yet teasing, “Oh yeah, I can sign this, don’t worry, the nine thousands folks won’t mind waiting,” but also responding to an audience member’s “I love you Josh!” with “I love you more, double watermelons, no take backs.” He was both disarming and pleasant. He has a great balance of humour and seriousness in his stage presence. Halfway through the performance Groban turned up on the opposite side of the arena, part way through the audience, for the song “In Her Eyes”, where he slowly walked through the crowd and shook hands along the way. Groban took up his drums for a portion of playing, in his trademark fashion. He also welcomed the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to him at one point, as he turned 26 on Feb 27th. Overall, the evening felt intimate and joyful.
The concert took on a more serious tone when he spoke about his life-changing trip to South Africa, and meeting Nelson Mandela. Footage of the trip covered the back screen as he sang “Lullaby” and “Weeping”, two songs inspired by that experience. The two side screens put up the charities Unite Against Hunger (www.uniteagainsthunger.com), Nelson Mandela Foundation (www.46664.com), and Keep A Child Alive (www.keepachildalive.org), as a way of promoting help for Africa. However, it was Josh Groban and Anjelique Kidjo singing the Sade classic “Pearls” (with lyrics like: There is a woman in Somalia/the sun gives her no mercy/the same sky we lay under/burns her to the bone), that was a complete highlight to the evening, as the song is both my favourite Sade track and an evocative and relevant piece of music that highlights the plight of those less fortunate in third world countries. The “South Africa section” of the concert was both moving and uplifting, as the entire audience recognized what affect we can have as a group on change.
Aside from how great Groban is as a performer, his band was all the cream of the crop; they are an eclectic bunch of artists that all had the love of music in common. Even among these musical heavyweights, one musician shone above and beyond; violinist Lucia Micarelli brought down the house with a rock-inspired violin solo. You knew this musician was connected to the music when she came out on stage barefoot, but realized that with her sheer passion, and incredible skills, she might have fallen over if she’d been in heels. Violin strings flying everywhere, Micarelli was evocative, scary, and magnanimous. A violinist with a rock n’ roll soul, a soul that lay in a puddle on the floor by the end of her solo, bringing the term “she bared her soul” to be a virtual literal with Micarelli. Sign me up for her own concert anytime, the woman’s got mad skills!
Groban and his band are like the pied piper; you are willing to be mesmerized and follow him wherever he goes musically. The concert was one of the best I’ve seen, and I’m a jaded woman of concerts at this point! An equal to Elton John and Prince, Groban is a newcomer with a true artist’s soul. Like his encore song, and most popular hit, the whole audience felt like saying “You Raise Me Up”. Thanks.