Josh Groban Proves Superb Showman in Saddledome Show
Calgary Herald
September 2, 2011
By Mike Bell
The comparisons are inevitable, the differences many, and the similarities, well, important: Michael Buble and Josh Groban.

It was difficult to watch the latter Thursday night at the Saddledome and not be struck to connect the pair, as vocalists and performers.

Certainly, there’s the David Foster factor, with the Canadian artist and composer having mentored and thrust the two onto the international stage — something Groban acknowledged last night prior to his rendition of Alejate, from his debut.

There’s also the musical factor, which has Buble swinging on upbeat Rat Pack pop jazz (pazz), while Groban multilingually croons away at elegant pop opera (popera) and pop classical (um, popsical). Either one has certain limitations and a fairly broad but, at the same time, narrow appeal, with Buble earning the nod thanks to a certain hip factor his material has over the predominantly older skewed and schmaltzy songs Groban has in his back pocket.

But, and here’s where the two collide and get the due they so duly deserve, as entertainers they are both of world-class calibre, able to transcend any biases one might have prior to entering one of their concerts and even the music that they deliver.

The 30-year-old Groban, Thursday night, was every bit as in the moment and ever much the showman of his more energetic contemporary is known as. While his music, live and on album, can seem eye-rollingly earnest and humourless — including his surprisingly wilted latest Illuminations, which was produced by alt rock and rap icon Rick Rubin — he was a wisecracking and remarkably genuine performer, one whose likability was immeasurable.

The time he spent onstage singing pitch-perfect hits from his catalogue — including a healthy dose of newbies Bells of New York City, Higher Window, War At Home, Galileo and The Wandering Kind — with tasteful, sweeping instrumental accompaniment by his backing band/orchestra, and staging and lighting that hearkened back to his theatrical beginnings, was almost equalled by his time spent in and engaging the audience.

In fact, in a canny opening, the besneakered star kicked off the show with a surprising back of the Dome entrance while members of his band distracted the crowd, which led him to set up shop on a piano in the middle of the floor for a couple of numbers, allowing photos to be snapped and gifts of knitted mittens to be offered. He later ventured back out to engage with the Grobanites, joking that unlike many crowds that were row upon row of B.O., this one smelled of a pleasant pong that was a mixture of Chanel 5 and barbecue sauce.

There was also a Q&A session with the artist, which included a couple of queries and requests including a call for an impromptu song for a fan named Sarah — which he not only obliged but hit right of park, topping it off with a kiss and a later invite onstage — and then a brief sampling of his infamous singing of Kanye West tweets.

Perhaps the only non-friendly part of the entire evening was a complete lack of video screens beside or above the stage, which might have made it a little easier for some of the more seasoned patrons — such as the 40-year married couple he brought onstage to serenade with a pretty lovely version of Broken Vow, a “song about cheating” — to get a good view of the man onstage.

Then again, with the time he spent among them, it’s a pretty easy thing to overlook — like any other complaint or comparison you could hope to make.

Opening act ELEW was also something of a crowd-pleaser, although this one more about his performance and style than anything he had to say. The New York musician offered a short set of piano maestro mashups, performing jazz rock (jock) versions of contemporary compositions. Sure, it was mildly amusing to hear snippets of songs such as The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black paired with the Peanuts theme, or moments from Katy Perry, Coldplay, U2 and Gilligan’s Island, but after awhile the schtickiness became a little too much and it actually overshadowed his phenomenal playing.

Ultimately and sadly, he seemed like a jazz prodigy stuck in a piano bar, playing requests for people who may have enjoyed his show but didn’t truly appreciate his talent.

Review: Josh Groban performed at the Saddledome on Thursday.