21 July, 2011

Review - London, Ontario

By Joe BelangerR, The London Free Press
Josh Groban is more than a pretty voice.

And Tuesday night at the John Labatt Centre, the 30-year-old classical crossover artist showed why he sells millions of records and draws near-capacity crowds every time he performs.

From the opening instrumental, Straight to You, featuring brass and string quartets, the Los Angeles-born star — whose records have sold more than 21 million copies worldwide since the release of his first self-titled album in 2001 — seduced the audience with selections from four of his five studio albums.

Groban suddenly appeared in the centre of the arena playing piano to a startled audience, his beautiful voice filling the cavity, stirring emotions in the adoring crowd with his cover of the Canadian band Great Lake Swimmers’ Changing Colours.

London was the second of four stops in Eastern Canada in the 52-city Straight To You Tour and it’s clear he’s in mid-tour shape as he wooed the audience with the voice and personality that just won’t quit.

When he introduced the song, You Are Loved (Don’t Give Up) from the album Awake, the audience roared its approval, then fell silent, not wanting to miss a note of the powerful song in which Groban visits his entire vocal range, from high baritone to falsetto. That was followed seamlessly by the darker, dramatic Oceano from the album Closer.

On the main stage with his 13-piece band, Groban never let the crowd think he’d forgotten about them, often stopping to tell stories. As beautiful as the music was, it was a casual affair with Groban dressed in black jacket, tight jeans, white shirt and running shoes.

There were tears falling when he sang the Spanish-language ballad, Alejate, from his debut release.

The tour is in support of his latest disc, Illuminations, which rose to No. 4 on Canadian charts, continuing his decade-long climb to become one of the most popular cross-over singers of all time.

Groban has a reputation for his humour and relaxed concerts, often interacting with his audiences, taking and responding to text messages and bringing people on stage. He didn’t disappoint his London fans, the vast majority women.

Near the end, he invited a couple celebrating their 14th anniversary onto the stage, along with a 12-year-old girl, and a second, older couple married 50 years to sit on inflatable couches to drink wine and milk. Once everyone was comfortable, Groban sat on a stool.

“I’m going to sing a song about cheating,” he said, sparking a big laugh before breaking into the sombre Broken Vow, backed by a sensational trumpet solo, before jumping into Per Te, also from Closer.

The two-hour concert ended with two encores, Neil Diamond’s Play Me and his first hit, You Raise Me Up.

Opening for Groban was self-described rockjazz pianist ELEW (Eric Lewis), whose energy and stylings on the ivories won enthusiastic applause from the crowd, as he crashed through the jazz and rock barriers, fusing his love of rock and jazz with covers from a litany of stars such as Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, Coldplay’s Clocks, The Killers’ Mr. Brightside, and classics such as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama, and the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black.

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