05 August, 2011

Pittsburgh review...

By Rosa Colucci of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Josh Groban made a long overdue concert stop in Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center Wednesday night to the delight of 7,000 fans.

With his eight-piece orchestra playing a fiery instrumental from the main stage, everyone looked for the young superstar. He then appeared from the back of the auditorium and bounded onto a secondary stage in the middle of the floor wearing his trademark dark jeans, V-neck tee, black blazer and K-Swiss tennies.

A sea of cellphone cameras lit up like little stars while Groban broke into "Changing Colors." The rapt audience stood still while he performed "February Song" and "You Are Loved." In the middle of the latter, he grabbed the mic and ran through the crowd, greeting his fans and flashing a winning smile.

He introduced songs such as "Bells of New York City," "Higher Window" and "Alejate" with engaging stories. Mr. Groban, no stranger to playing instruments, showed his abilities on both stages, playing two pianos and performing a smoking-hot drum solo on an instrumental version of "Live and Let Die."

Fans were treated to a lot of personal interaction as he walked the audience with a microphone. A 9-year-old named Hadley revealed this was her first concert, and he promised early on to make it her best. Later, he invited her on stage with other fans to a make-shift lounge area where he served milk to the kids and wine to the adults before he performed for them. There was a Q&A segment that bore the best moment of the night. A young woman named Kate was heading to the Navy for boot camp in three weeks, and she asked to duet with him. They sang "Smile," and cellphones everywhere recorded the heartwarming moment.

It was hard to believe that Mr. Groban performed more than 20 songs including "Galileo," "Weeping" and "Per Te," as he moved from stage to stage spending so much time with the audience (and recalling his short time at Carnegie Mellon University). His boundless energy and showmanship serve him well.

One thing that was missing -- but not missed -- was a large video screen so common in concerts these days.

One thing that should have been missing -- but wasn't -- was the bass guitar that overshadowed the mix of the music throughout the night. Run through processors, it became a loud hindrance to Mr. Groban's rich tenor and baritone ranges. The best musical moments came when Mr. Groban sang with just one or two instruments. This was especially true during the encore of "You Raise Me Up," when he was accompanied by piano and viola and his voice beautifully filled the auditorium.

The show opened with Elew, a Manhattan School of Music trained jazz pianist. His 30-minute set included popular songs by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Henry Mancini and even a few television show themes. His style of "rock-jazz piano" was straight-ahead showmanship. However, at times it felt contrived and uninspired, right down to the plucking and dampening of the piano strings in the case. This richly talented man previously toured with other heavyweights like Wynton Marsalis and Cassandra Wilson. It is hoped that as he matures, he will dig deeper to bring more musical substance to the table.

It's been four years since Mr. Groban played Pittsburgh. All in all, his easy demeanor and crowd interaction left the audience feeling as if it had had a great visit with a best friend.

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