Groban Takes Fans On a Special Voyage
August 4, 2007
By Prasana William
Josh Groban, the 26-year-old classically trained superstar, rocked Hershey's packed Giant Center last night. Don't call it opera, a common misconception among uninitiated listeners. Groban proved that what he does with a mike and an orchestra is far from Pavarotti.
Opener Anjelique Kidjo warmed up the crowd with her energetic African beat. In front of a masterful band that includes two drummers, Kidjo held her own -- a tiny bundle of rhythm and soaring voice that captivated the eye and probably won more than a few fans.
Rumbling through on African songs and a cover of The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," Kidjo hardly stood still, as though the music was too alive to stay inside her small frame. She exhorted the fans to leave behind their troubles, if just for one night, and enjoy the concert -- a perfect intro for what would come next.
Groban is one of the top romantic musicians of our time and his performance last night truly was an escape from the ordinary. When you watch him, you get more than a musically flooring performance -- you get a stunning visual act.
The first strains of "You are Loved (Don't Give Up)" floated spectrally across the audience from behind a curtain that appeared to be made of pure sunshine. The curtain rose to reveal an orchestra -- not many touring performers can boast that -- and Groban himself rose from beneath the stage to the exploding chorus. Screens lit like the sun rose and shone down on the singer who wielded the mike stand like a rock star.
He launched into the ominous "Mia" with the backdrop playing a computer-animated film of a plant slowly growing from the soil. The effect of a live orchestra made listening to this song like hearing it for the first time. There is no going back to the recording after the live, thundering orchestra.
After these two powerhouse performances, it was slightly comforting to see Groban greet and banter with the audience. He has a natural camaraderie with his fans that somehow grants him the patience to deal with the legion of girls swarming the stage with presents.
It was almost as fun to see his goofy side between songs as to actually hear them. With his head of curls and patchy stubble and in a pair of dark jeans, simple black print T-shirt and suit coat, Groban looked like the classic romantic hero crossed with the modern everyman.
Soon returning to song with "Un Dia Llegara," Groban again proved he is anything but ordinary, filling every nook of the massive arena with the slightly mournful song.
With "Un Giorno Per Noi," he gently pulled the audience deeper into the melancholy of the music after the haunting cello solo by Vanessa Freeman Smith. Following with "Now or Never," Groban evoked the desperate cry of a lover frustrated by unspoken love.
The tinkling melody of "So She Dances" was one of the most memorable songs of the night. The rolling round melody was innocent and whimsical -- as though a child's music box was tipped on its side and the ballerina allowed to tiptoe out.
In "February Song," Groban built to a thundering crescendo that exploded across the backdrop and sent the audience rocketing through the cosmos with visual effects.
Lucia Micarelli, the violinist on tour with Groban, allowed the star a short break, but not the audience. She ripped up the stage with an electric rock performance of an intensity that shook.
Groban returned with "In Her Eyes," entering through the back of the arena and making his way toward the stage as fans reached to touch him. It was as though he was trying to remind them that he is indeed what the humble chorus says, "just a man."
He blasted through an amazing duet with Kidjo and, after failing to learn how to dance at her knowledgeable hand, launched into the uber-romantic "L'Ultima Notte" and his number-one hit from his last album, "Remember When It Rained."
Taking a moment to talk about his travels to South Africa, Groban then sang the sweet "Lullaby" originally performed with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Though he used a voice synthesizer to replicate the chorus, there's no replacing the original group, and the following "Weeping" was much more powerful with a recording of Ladysmith Black Mambazo backing him.
Showing his theatrical side, an obvious result of the natural ham personality he'd displayed through the night, Groban performed "Not While I'm Around" from Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd."
However, it was the jarring and electrically funky sound of "Machine" that closed out the night--a true testament to Groban's range, as the song is far from anything classical. Ultimately, Groban's widespread performance left the audience shaken, stirred and satisfied.