12 July, 2011

Another great review from Green Bay...

From Kendra Meinert of the Green Bay Press Gazette.

Things you expect at a Josh Groban concert: more women than men, at least one uncontrollable “I love you Josh!" uncorked from somewhere in the darkness and those golden pipes of his in all their moving, romantic glory.

Things you don’t expect at a Josh Groban concert: an opening act named ELEW who covered The Killers and the von Trapps, inflatable couches and a gallon of milk onstage, a triple drum solo, the star of the night’s own version of a Green Bay Packers touchdown dance and a stunning Jackie Evancho-esque moment from a little girl in the crowd.

Groban delivered all of the above – and then some – during an utterly charming and impeccable two-hour performance Saturday at the Resch Center that felt more like “The Josh Groban Variety Hour" than mere concert.

Who knew (well, except for all the smitten Grobanites in the audience of 4,929) that the 30-year-old Groban was such a versatile entertainer with such a warm stage presence and wicked sense of humor? Classical-pop crossover star gets him the marquee lights all over the world – and deservedly so when you heard his voice on the swelling strains of “Bells of New York City" and the guaranteed show-ender “You Raise Me Up" -- but he proved on his second visit to the Resch that he’s also a gracious host, the boy next door and incredibly likable in a young Barry Manilow kind of way.

With a painted brick backdrop that looked like the backstage of an old theater and some subtle video images, he transported the crowd to New York, a war zone and Italy. But that’s only when he was on that stage.

To the delight of the crowd, he made his entrance from amongst the screaming fans on a small circular stage at the back of the arena. Even when he was on the main stage, he repeatedly took advantage of “GAPs" (his road crew’s slang for Groban Access Points) to go bounding into the crowd to give a 9-year-old first-time concertgoer a hug or sympathetically ask a man, “You look dragged here tonight. Is that the case?"

Out of breath after running down the aisle, he jumped back up stage and proclaimed, “You were a little grabby. I’m not gonna lie."

Later in the night, he would invite a couple of 40 years, a single woman (whom he skipped down the arena floor with while singing Beyonce’s “Single Ladies") and that same first-time fan up on stage to sit on inflatable couches as he poured them a glass of wine or milk – all the while doing assorted goofy waiter impersonations – and then serenaded them with first “Broken Vow" and then “Per Te"’ in Italian.

Much like the music on his current Rick Rubin-produced “Illuminations" album, his show too felt more intimate and personal. There was both a hopefulness and vulnerability to Groban as he sat at the piano to sing the new love song “Higher Window," and the power of his voice on his tribute to veterans, “War at Home," all but demanded the hair on the back of your neck to stand at attention. He treated fans to a new arrangement of “You Are Loved" and got dangerously close to funky on “Machine."

He let his 13-piece band have at it on a driving cover of “Live and Let Die" for what felt like the perfect seventh inning stretch. A double drum solo at the end of that song transitioned into “Voce Existe Em Mim," with Groban taking up himself on a drum set rolled out between his two drummers, where all three unleashed a firestorm of beats before the singer launched into the song in Portuguese.

Seemingly afraid of no topic – even venturing into the territory of what he wears to bed (to more screams) – he talked personally about some songs and occasionally let some chats to turn into mini stand-up routines. He put on plenty of silly accents, but never airs.

During a Q&A segment via text messages, a fan asked: “The Packers just scored a touchdown. What’s your signature dance move? (Don’t tell me you don’t have one.)" After some thought, he went leaping across the stage as a nod to “Fiddler on the Roof" and then finished it off with a “Waiting for Guffman" bow. The crowd that was beside itself with laughter would be stunned into silence moments later when a 14-year-old girl asked if she could sing a duet with him.

Groban escorted her from her seat to the secondary stage and asked what she’d like to sing. “To Where You Are," she said shyly. He allowed her to open the song by herself to an arena that gasped at the beauty of her operatic voice. The crowd was quick to its feet with a standing ovation. After sending the child off the stage with an exuberant high five, a dejected Groban joked fans would have to make do with “just me" for the rest of the night.

Turns out he would do just fine.

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