Groban Does It All With Solid Skill
Winnipeg Free Press
September 6, 2011
By Gwenda Nemerofsky
Shows range of talents for appreciative fans in energetic show

At the MTS Centre Sunday night, Josh Groban firmly established himself as a modern-day Renaissance man. The 30-year-old multi-platinum superstar not only has a lovely and astonishingly flexible baritone voice, but is a songwriter, skilful drummer and philanthropist. Charming the crowd with his familiar hits and friendly, self-effacing patter, Groban offered up a fast-paced show complete with audience participation.

Opening with the moving Changing Colors, Groban, wearing black pants, dark jacket, white T-shirt and black-and-white runners, sat at the piano, centre arena, unperturbed by hordes of fans gathering around snapping photos.

February Song and a bass-heavy You Are Loved, both from his Awake album, followed -- perfect vehicles to highlight his rich low register and faultless (very) high notes.

Backed up by a substantial band including two violins, viola, cello, trumpet, two French horns, trombone, guitar, bass, piano and two drummers, Groban was occasionally overtaken, despite his powerful voice and even more powerful amplification. This was most evident in Alle Luce del Sole; its popular melody was all but lost in the pounding rhythm. Groban sounded best when the band kept things understated.

Aléjate (Just Walk Away), from his debut album, featured Tariqh Akoni on guitar and Groban bringing great warmth to his voice and sensitivity that sounded sincere. Only the gyrating violinist and violist vying for attention detracted from this performance.

Throughout the evening, the energetic Groban chatted with the audience, walking (accompanied by burly bodyguards) through the aisles, stopping to connect with his fans. He responded to texts from listeners, including an invitation to a sleepover from seven-year-old Aidan. He brought tenor Mitchell onstage to sing a few phrases of You Raise Me Up with him.

The atmospheric ode Bells of New York City from his recent Illuminations album was a highlight, with its beautiful melody, superb instrumentation (complete with tubular bells) and Groban's singing at its clearest and purest. We swayed to Weeping, the South African protest song Groban recorded with Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 2006.

The yearning Higher Window, inspired by tough times in Groban's love life, was a resonant reach-out to the crowd, especially the ladies, who couldn't resist the vulnerable quality of his sweet high notes.

Galileo was reminiscent of John Denver's lyrical style, with projections of the planets and universe on the adaptable faux stone wall backdrop. Encore piece Play Me (Neil Diamond) rivalled the original version.

To the crowd's delight, Groban showed off his drumming expertise in two numbers. He also acknowledged a group of youngsters from Winnipeg's Graffiti Gallery, who were his guests at the concert and at a pre-concert reception. Through his Find Your Light Foundation, dedicated to enriching the lives of young people through arts, education and cultural awareness, Groban made a donation to the non-profit youth arts centre.

Rock pianist ELEW warmed up the crowd with high-powered piano-technics, performed while in an uncomfortable-looking lunge position.


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