09 July, 2011

And now introducing ... Josh Groban, rock star...

I love that Josh is back on the road again. Here's another review from Minneapolis by Jon Bream of the Star Tribune.
REVIEW: He turned on the charm, delivering ballad after ballad and flirting with the crowd with no air of pretension.

The opera boy next door is really a rock star without a top 40 portfolio.

And a standup comic without a gig, a mimic, an impressionist, a fast-talking and fast-thinking improviser and an all-around charmer.

But back to the rock star, because that's how Josh Groban made his entrance Friday at Target Center.

As four horn players and four string musicians played on the main stage, Groban came running in from the back of the arena, slapping hands with fans and ready to rock 'n' roll on a spinet piano in the middle of the room.

OK, it wasn't exactly rock 'n' roll. It was "Straight to You," another ballady song in an evening of ballad after ballad. Some of Groban's ballads are louder than others, some slightly faster. But on Friday, he proved that he is essentially a man without a genre.

Mr. Hyphen is often referred to as pop-classical-crossover. But his two-hour concert -- which he promised would be more intimate than any of his previous arena shows -- didn't feel classical at all. Formal, yes. That's his style. Think of a male Celine Dion without the vocal gymnastics, chest-thumping or pretensions of making something contemporary.

Groban, 30, is comfortable in his own skin -- even knowing that his audience, middle-of-the-road and middle-aged, probably didn't know what he meant when he said he was "stoked" to be in Minneapolis. He was excited to be here, he explained, because he wrote half the songs on his current album, "Illuminations," here with songwriter-for-hire Dan Wilson.

While their reverently emotional "Bells of New York" and the almost-hummable "Higher Window" added a more personal feel to his hopelessly stately repertoire, they did not change the tempo or tenor. That's where Groban's personality came in. He cruised through the crowd of 7,000, flirted with a shoeless 10-year-old girl and plopped down in an empty seat on the main floor.

Later, he did a Q&A segment during which one woman hugged him and wouldn't let go ("I feel equal parts jubilated and violated," he said), and another fan asked if he could sing with Groban. After the star did the piano duties and Matt did the vocals, Josh did a spot-on vocal impression of Matt, adding more of a country music flavor.

Groban wasn't done joshing. After the Peter Gabriel-evoking world music "Machine" (the only piece that even flirted with uptempo), the star climbed back into the crowd and recruited a couple married for 35 years, a single girl (while he sang Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" in a perfect falsetto) and the shoeless 10-year-old to join him on stage, where he promised to serenade them. He poured wine for the couple and milk for the young women after asking if they were lactose-intolerant "because that would sound awful on these [inflated] couches."

The ad-lib may have caused cringes, but the songs "Broken Vow" and the operatic "Per Te" caused goosebumps. His tenor was not big, but it was true, finding the right emotions without going over the top. He left the bombast to his 13 musicians.

Groban understands, as he said during the encore, the difference between romantic, poetic and cheesy. So he then sat at the grand piano and played Neil Diamond's "Play Me" so elegantly that it seemed romantic, cheesy and rock 'n' roll all at once.

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