31 August, 2011

Awesome review from Vancouver...

Thank you, thank you, thank you Francois Marchand of the Vancouver Sun.
Review: Josh Groban sings his heart out in Vancouver

Operatic pop singer raises Rogers Arena with big voice and big laughs

When: Tuesday night

Where: Rogers Arena

VANCOUVER - Josh Groban's heart is, quite obviously, as big as his powerful baritone.

The 30-year-old operatic pop singer can make you laugh with a few zingers just as easily as he can tug on your heartstrings through song, something that has played a big role in his enduring popularity.

At Rogers Arena in Vancouver Tuesday night, Groban didn't miss a single opportunity to use his wit as much as his incredible set of pipes, mixing comedy and drama without skipping a beat, much to the delight of his fans.

"You paid out the wazoo to be here tonight," he said at the start of the two-hour show. "The least I can do is sing my ass off."

There you had it: The essence of his current Straight To You tour was a mix of congeniality and string-laden pop appeal, guy-next-door charm intertwined with uplifting musical bravado (peppered with a little cheese here and there, of course).

It certainly doesn't hurt when you have five albums to pick and choose material from, Groban's latest being Illuminations, produced by the mighty Rick Rubin, a man whose signature "bring it back back to your roots" approach has most recently created a monster in British soul-pop singer Adele on her chart-busting album 21.

Illuminations, released late last year, marked a sonic departure for an artist associated with "hit-man" David Foster, who made Groban a worldwide sensation and an Oprah favourite to boot.

It also firmly established the L.A.-bred singer in his new hometown of New York City, a locale whose presence is felt throughout the album.

More confessional, closer to the heart - how does one make it truly shine in a faceless, if slightly more intimate than usual, arena setting?

(The upper balcony level was closed, and the concourse was unusually quiet, which is probably a good indication of the kind of crowd that attends a Groban concert: Mostly older couples, moms and dads, with a few groups of young female fans doing the bulk of the real screaming. As one tongue-in-cheek tweet put it best before the show: "Daughters, lock up your mothers - Josh Groban is playing Vancouver tonight.")

Groban's approach Tuesday night was to use every trick in the book to make it click with the crowd on a personal level.

Taking text messages from fans? Check.

Going into the audience using one of the many "Grobanite Access Points" (ie. the steps leading off the stage and into the crowd)? Done.

Singing a bit of Awake with a fan in the stands? Yep.

The core of the concert, of course, was the songs, and Groban can belt those out like few can.

Right from the start, a cover of Canadian indie band Great Lake Swimmers' Changing Colours and February Song had Groban - sporting a jacket, T-shirt, black jeans and sneakers - singing from a platform in the middle of the crowd.

If the evening revolved around a predictable theme, love and hope, with songs like You Are Loved (Don't Give Up) and Galileo (Someone Like You), Groban also showcased his multi-linguistic skills on Alejate (sung in Spanish), Alla Luce Del Sole (in Italian) and Voce Existe Em Mim (in Portuguese).

Groban's voice went from a rich, quivering baritone to soaring heights with ease, Groban often tickling the ivories, backed by a mighty symphonic band consisting of a dozen musicians handling strings, horns, guitar, bass and percussions. (Speaking of percussions, Groban got to show off his drumming skills halfway through the show. Let's just say the guy knows what he's doing.)

The stage was designed to look like an old amphitheatre wall with a broken half arch jutting out in the middle (if the show had taken place at the Orpheum, it would have been redundant), with projections lighting up the prop throughout - animated waves on Oceano, New York landmarks during Bells of New York City, fire escapes and stairs on Higher Window.

(There were no screens showing video close-ups of Groban, however, which may have disappointed some.)

For all the criticism levelled against him - the main one being that he is too "easy-listening" - Groban knows how to give his fans exactly what they want: Who he really is, awkward jokes and all.

Ultimately, how can you not appreciate a guy who, beyond being genuinely talented and likeable, is also dedicated to various charitable endeavours and social causes: In Vancouver, Groban donated some of the money made from ticket sales - via his Find Your Light Foundation - to Carousel Theatre, an organization dedicated to inspiring kids and families through theatrical performances.

You stay classy, Josh Groban.

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