19 July, 2011

Toronto Review 1...

By Jane Stevenson
TORONTO - Classical crossover pop star Josh Groban did a very wise thing on his return engagement to Toronto.

Appearing at the Air Canada Centre on Monday night as part of his Straight To You arena trek, the 30-year-old singer incorporated a lot of the winning components from his much more intimate show at T.O.’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre back in January as part of his Before We Begin warm up tour.

Thus the warm up right?

Keep what works, throw away what doesn’t.

For example, he began the two-hour show at the ACC by casually wandering into the audience on the floor where his piano sat on a smaller b-stage while his 13 musicians - including four horn players and four string players - played away on his larger main stage, thus keeping it intimate from the get-go.

How about Close to You instead of Straight to You?

And Groban’s trademark wit was also on display as he interacted early and often with the audience, ranging in size from 10,000 to 13,000 depending on who you asked, and just shy of a sell out.

The funniest bit was when he took questions from fans including a woman named Bambi, who asked him to sing Kanye West tweets, in a repeat of the popular sketch he’s done on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night chat show.

“Is that your real name or your stage name?” he kidded Bambi.

But he did acquiesce and perform some of West’s better tweets including “French fries are the devil,” “Fur pillows are hard to actually sleep on,” “Man whatever happened to my antique fishtank,” and Classical music is tight, yo,” back on the smaller stage piano again much to the audience’s delight.

Then Groban dragged up a couple who had been together for 25 years plus a random nine year old and a 24-year old woman on stage to sit on blow up white and black couches, serving them wine and milk.

“What’s your secret?” he asked the couple.

“We just like to hang out and party,” said the man

“I’m going to get you hammered,” sang Groban as he poured the wine.

He advised nine year old Claire: “Drink milk for as long as you can.”

Schtick aside - basically he’s ready for a stint in Las Vegas if he wants it - Groban was in good voice in several languages including Italian, Spanish and English, when he wasn’t working the room.

Standouts included You Are Loved (Don’t Give Up), Alejate, Bells Of New York City (Groban’s recent new home) - the first of many songs from his 2010 release, Illuminations - Higher Window, War at Home, Galileo (Someone Like You), Broken Vow, and the set ending Per Te.

He also showed off his drumming skills on a stand up kit when the entire band took part in an instrumental version of Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die and performed an encore consisting of a cover of Neil Diamond’s Play Me - he joked when writing he often asks “What would Neil Diamond do?” - and his own inspirational tune, You Raise Me Up, asking the Toronto fans to be his gospel choir for the night.

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