Review: Groban Performs With Feeling
July 23, 2011
By Bruce Ward
Enthusiastic crowd mesmerized by powerful voice
REVIEW: Josh Groban
Reviewed Friday, July 22
Josh Groban, the master of operatic pop, was nowhere in sight when his concert began Friday night at Scotiabank Place.
In a graceful gesture, he gave the main stage to the string and horn sections of his 13-piece band. They serenaded the crowd of about 5,000 — a smallish turnout, given Groban’s massive popularity — with an instrumental version of the singer’s Straight To You.
Only then did Groban pop up on a smaller stage on the arena floor, playing piano and crooning Changing Colors, a song he got from Great Lake Swimmers, a Canadian band.
Next, Groban turned to February Song and You Are Loved (Don’t Give Up). Both were greeted with loud applause followed by rapt attention, as if the crowd’s senses were swamped by the beauty of Groban’s voice.
One highlight of the show was Groban’s breathtaking Au Jardin Des Sans-Pourquoi — a song written by Montreal’s Rufus Wainright and his mother, the late Kate McGarrigle. It’s a standout track on Groban’s latest album Illuminations, produced by Rick Rubin.
Later, Groban showed his versatility, taking over the drums for a crack instrumental version of You Only Live Twice, the James Bond movie theme.
Groban’s baritone is like a suburban family van tricked out with a Mercedes engine. When he steps on the gas, so to speak, the ladies swoon.
He comes across like someone you might see at the coffee shop — a regular guy who happens to have a voice like an angel.
Groban bounded into the crowd several times, slapping palms and holding short conversations with several fans.
“You smell awesome, Ottawa,” he said at one point. “I love how you’re always polite.”
Groban chose a young woman named “Camille” from the audience and brought her on stage to sing When You Say You Love Me with him.
“That takes balls,” he said when she finished. The crowd responded with huge applause.
Early in the set, Groban moved to Mediterranean-style balladry, singing Oceano in Italian and then Alejate in Spanish.
For an arena pop star, Groban’s enunciation is a marvel. You can actually hear and understand the words he sings, although at times the cavernous rink did muddy the band’s sound.
Lyrically, some of Groban’s material is as sappy as maple syrup. Remember how hippies would hold a lighted match aloft in tribute at Grateful Dead shows?
The equivalent for Grobanites would be holding up a slice of white bread.
Groban was dressed in California casual — blue jacket, jeans and white running shoes.
Over the course of his 20-song set, he drew from his four million-selling albums.
Whatever language he sang in — English, French, Italian, Spanish, — Groban gave his fans exactly what they came for — glossy high-end pop sung with grace and genuine feeling.
Pianist Eric “Elew” Lewis who opened the show is Groban’s polar opposite.
Standing at the piano, he played mostly pounding music he calls “rockjazz.” His version of Sweet Home Alabama included a brief snatch of — possibly — Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.
Elew then took the Stones’ Paint It, Black out in the alley and beat it senseless.
He delivered a cool take on the Gilligan’s Island theme — but if wasn’t one Ginger or the professor would readily recognize.
Elew also worked bits of Erik Satie and Scott Joplin’s ragtime gem, The Entertainer, into his short set.
The Scotiabank audience mostly seemed nonplussed by Elew’s energetic performance.
It was as though he was serving Red Bull to mint tea drinkers.