27 August, 2011

Sacramento Review...

By Patricia Willers.
Who knew a bari-tenor could have groupies?

Josh Groban put on an excellent show Wednesday night at Power Balance Pavilion. Groban began the show on a stage in the center of the arena, dozens of Grobanites, as they are called, swarming around the raised platform.

“You guys are circling like sharks,” said Groban.

His show was spotted with comedy, which was a rather delightful surprise. One doesn’t necessary expect to laugh at a Josh Groban concert, and in fact, everyone did – and frequently. Throughout the show he was tremendously interactive with the audience.

“I had a Starbucks earlier,” said Groban. “I’m really sorry.”

It would be interesting to know if this is the vibe and character of a normal show, or if it was a uniquely caffeinated mood. Judging by his confidence, mixing at random - “I Wanna Sex You Up” and eggs over easy; it seems that he was born caffeinated.

Groban was excited to be back in Sacramento, citing that this was the place that he got his start. He referred to his performance at the inauguration of Gov. Gray Davis and also mentioned producer and composer David Foster on several occasions. Foster, who arranged Groban’s first gig at Power Balance, ARCO Arena at the time, is often credited for having “discovered” Groban.

Groban was preceded by opener, Elew, an exuberant pianist who was always standing, kneeling or dancing – never sitting. His pieces ranged from classical to “Sweet Home Alabama,” a unique choice for a piano solo that got the crowd clapping.

Elew played as if he were at home tinkering on his own set of keys rather than in a sizeable complex, even playing the strings inside the piano with his left hand as he tickled the ivories with his right.

He won the hearts of many in just a few minutes and was a nice opening act for Groban, particularly because of Groban’s light-hearted and goofy demeanor. I would guess that he and Elew have some fun head to head musical battles in their off hours.

Midway through his set, as Elew began to stoically play “Love Story,” a woman in the next row questioned a friend.

“Isn’t that the Young and the Restless?”

Her query demonstrated exactly why the tune was chosen, and gave insight into Elew’s creative sense of humor.

Yet another performer to watch for in the future is Groban’s musical director, Tariqh Akoni. Akoni played various roles during the show, a highlight being his acoustic guitar solo during “Just Walk Away,” which Groban performed in Spanish.

Throughout the show, it was very apparent that Groban loves music. He arrived in Sacramento with basically his own orchestra in tow, his musical peeps, as he referred to them. More and more people joined him on stage depending on the genre or style of the song at the moment. The musicians on stage with him, how they play, and how and when he brought them forward to play said a lot about his attitude towards the various genres.

Groban prides himself for the variety in his repertoire. He had just that, his set list including songs in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Latin. Then, suddenly, he’s pounding away on a trap set in center stage.

Admittedly, I think that I could do with his voice alone. The accompaniment was high quality, but when he really sings, there’s magic in it.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I thought it possible there would be some tears shed at this event. There were several moments when his voice really was that impressive, the first song and last song included, but throughout the bulk of the concert, while his excellent vocals surely got the job done, it seemed that he wasn’t taking full advantage of his incredible talent. With a voice like that, less is more, because it’s already so much.

Throughout the evening, Groban took advantage of his extraordinary range. “Changing Colors,” for one, took advantage of the upper extreme. His performance, of course, was flawless.

The romantic, “Galileo,” was also a crowd favorite. Another song was dedicated to servicemen and women around the world. “The War at Home,” was very well received, the somber sound of a military snare sequence in the background serious, yet heartfelt.

By the end of the show, I was even more convinced. All I wanted was that voice, Groban on stage, no mic, no graphics, maybe a grand piano.

One lucky woman in the audience, among hundreds participating, text her thoughts to Josh Groban and found herself onstage. Beth Guido explained via SMS that she had been inspired by Groban and still today continues to work towards a singing career. Groban and Guido sang a nice rendition of “Happy Birthday” to another audience member. It’s safe to say that the audience liked her; their voices blended quite well, in fact, it’s actually too bad she didn’t say, “The Prayer,” when he asked her what she wanted to sing.

Beth, please keep that in mind for the future.

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