Josh Groban Earns Adoration in Stockton Arena Concert
August 25, 2007
By Brian McCoy
In considering Josh Groban's performance Friday night at Stockton Arena, it's important first to note what the singer is not.
He is not a classical crossover artist, the industry term usually applied to him. Inherent in that label is the concept of a performer steeped in classical music crossing over to do more popular material. Think of the Three Tenors tackling ''My Way'' or some of violinist Joshua Bell's recordings.
Groban's performance before 6,000 people at the waterfront venue revealed a very different artist. No classical veteran crossing over for the bucks, Groban happens to be an accomplished performer blessed with just as much of a penchant for the classical repertoire as for pop music. That -- and a supremely rich voice that enables him to move easily between the genres even as he blurs their boundaries -- is what distinguishes Groban.
Now, none of this is news to the world's Grobanites, the hard-core fans who 'get' the artist in a way the rest of us never will. And there were plenty in attendance Friday, the glow of their phones illuminating the arena's floor as the house lights dimmed and the singer started his 90-minute set.
And Groban responded. His impressive and complex stage -- all ramps, banked lights and screened images -- projected into the audience, and his strolls out there, whether he was singing or just speaking, brought hundreds of upstretched hands holding flowers, glow sticks, programs and paper hearts.
Groban later performed one number while moving from the back of the arena to the stage, the spotlight and the cameras picking up his enjoyment and his fans' adoration.
It's easy to see why that passion exists, on both ends. Groban has a singular voice, and he came to town with a show worthy of it.
Traveling with an eight-piece group that included violin and cello, Groban complemented those numbers with a slew of local string and horn players and, for the concert's finale, a gospel choir. Combined with the elaborate stage and lighting, it represented one of the most impressive enterprises to hit the arena in its short history.
The production values ably supported his talent. Drawing material from his still-limited discography, most notably his current album, 'Awake,' Groban applied that sparkling voice to an admirable range of material.
There were moments of opera but, let's face it, on disc and on stage, Groban turns arias into power ballads. More impressive were his unalloyed pop numbers, show stoppers such as 'You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)' and 'February Song,' the latter of which he performed at the piano. With his crack musicians thundering behind him, it all made for an exciting evening of music.
Of course, Groban fans love the man for his personality as much as his performing, and there was plenty of that, too. Groban proved an amiable and attractive host, making the requisite comment about Stockton's asparagus connection, drawing laughs with his attempts to dance with opener Angelique Kidjo during their duet and admirably drawing attention to the problems of African poverty.
He talked about being a theater geek growing up before launching into Stephen Sondheim's 'Not While I'm Around' and threw out a few lines of Elton John's 'Tiny Dancer' at the piano.
He closed with 'You Raise Me Up,' perhaps his best-known song and one that succinctly sums up his style, that magnificent voice bringing a near-operatic touch to what is little more than a rewrite of 'Wind Beneath My Wings.'
What makes it work, however, is the man's undeniable talent and his unabashed sincerity. And even us non-Grobanites can appreciate and applaud those attributes.