Groban Turns on the Charm
Edmonton Journal
September 6, 2011
By Fish Griwkowsky
Crooner thrills predominantly female audience at Rexall concert

Concert Review
John Groban
With: Elew
When: Friday night
Where: Rexall Place

Josh Groban isn't just sweet. Ask the thousands of women in attendance at his concert Friday night, he's basically delicious. "You're like swarming sharks," the pop opera star noted of a crowd of seat-jumpers at his feet. "I feel like Nemo.

"You want me to stage dive?" teased the handsome 30-year-old. Running out from the Zamboni hole across the bowl from the mainstage, Groban surprised the crowd at the Oilers rink and played his first few numbers on a platform by the sound board. He opened with Changing Colors, like many of his songs urging us not to be afraid of love.

It's a nice sentiment from an infectiously nice guy. Groban gets made fun of quite a lot for being mom music, but what he's tapped into is a pretty interesting niche, a series of chemistry experiments mixing pop, opera and classical into popera and popsical. Even his powerful voice sits higher than baritone, lower than tenor. The singer has joked, "I'm a tenor in training."

But as much as his music cries out, "I have more emotions than anyone," crescendo after crescendo - it's his earnest chattiness that brings his long string of musical finales down to earth. Ultimately, he's just a very charming kid in sneakers and a suit. With, of course, a hell of a set of pipes and a talented pop-classical band behind him, at one point doing a killer Live and Let Die.

"We have not been here in quite a long time, shame on us," he announced. "You paid up the wazoo to be here Edmonton, the least I can do is sing my ass off."

And so he did. New songs from his Rick Rubin-produced album included Bells of New York, the wistful Hidden Away and - more crescendo - Galileo. Groban explained this one was about love, which you just have to let happen. "I don't know if you noticed, but I'm a bit of an overthinker. I'm a bit weird."

Earlier, Groban explained how the band recently recharged by playing smaller, "terrifying" shows, where he could see the whites of everyone's eyes again. The lesson learned was to get closer to the audience, and to prove this he ran out onto the floor again, high-fiving, commenting pleasantly on how we smelled, interviewing a 13-year-old girl and an even younger chap. "Eight years old," he marvelled. "This place is turning into Mister Rogers, this is amazing."

During an audience texted-in Q&A section, Groban showed off his hidden talent, juggling. He noted he'd love to be in more movies. And, responding to a brazen request, pulled up a girl from the audience and sang to another stranger. None of this is groundbreaking in terms of audience wooing, but Groban is so immensely likable he could probably sit and whittle and get the wall of screams.

Giving money to local arts organizations like iHuman Youth Society certainly helps this perception.

Opening act Elew played cover songs on piano with incredible skill and power, wearing a pair of metal vambraces on his arms, which he used to distort the notes inside the grand. Wearing the same sneakers and suit combo as Groban, his set ran a little long - full of "I recognize the Gilligan's Island theme" sorts of jokes, thrown into the Rolling Stones' Paint It Black. But the man has incredible hands. I'd love to hear more originals from him.

It was Groban's show, of course, full of goofiness and powerful numbers like Oceano and You Are Loved (Don't Give Up) ... and, of course, You Raise Me Up. Modern opera too often these days tries to cross over with pop culture themes and cornball slapstick. I certainly like this a lot better, an evening with a friendly guy and thousands and thousands of extremely excited women.