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Josh Groban charming and chatty in Gwinnett

Josh+Groban+jg6_crop2The challenge of being Josh Groban is that because his music is serious and intense, people assume he’s humorless and stuffy and that his live shows must be two hours of furrowed brows and weeping.

 In fact, the 30-year-old pop-opera (popera?) singer is an affable fellow with a quick wit and self-deprecating charm who happens to possess a lacquered voice and nimble piano skills.

 For his “Straight to You” tour, which kicked off last month and played at the Gwinnett Center Arena Wednesday, Groban is experimenting in a way by trying to mesh the intimacy of a theater show with the expanse of an arena.

 It’s tricky territory, especially given Groban’s mellow songs. But for the most part, it worked, especially his cleanly lit stage and backdrop of white brick that resembled the crumbled archway of an old theater.

 “You guys paid out the wazoo to be here, so the least I can do is sing my [butt] off for you,” he said at the start of the two-hour show, which began at the back of the arena on a satellite stage with the singer playing piano on “Changing Colors” and “February Song.”

 Though it’s easy to trivialize Groban’s music as “cheesy,” that’s a flawed categorization. There is nothing fake or smarmy about what he does and his sincerity is evident in every soaring, range-spanning chorus.

 Even the Hallmark card sentiments in “You Are Loved (Don’t Give Up)” resonate with meaning when infused with Groban’s rich baritone.

 At Wednesday’s show, he frequently darted into the audience – which filled about half of the arena – to glad hand fans and engage in chit-chat. The one thing missing from his stage setup was a video screen, which would have allowed those in the back to also witness these up-close encounters.

 “Oh, you smell nice,” he said as he passed one woman. He paused to coo at a baby and made some jokes about the over-reaching politeness of Southerners before dashing back to the main stage to play the atmospheric “The Bells of New York City,” a wintry-feeling, pop-leaning song from his current album, “Illuminations.”

 Along with his five-piece band and an eight-member orchestral ensemble, Groban, clad in a black jacket and jeans with white sneakers and T-shirt, made every tune seem effortless.

 And his set list, from the seductive flamenco guitar that buoyed “Aléjate” (from his first album released a decade ago) to the pulsing new “Você Existe em Mim,” on which Groban joined his drummer and percussionist in a rhythmic feast, showcased the singer’s eclectic styles.

 His frequent interactions with the audience, whether to answer questions texted to him before the show or to bring a couple married 48 years on stage to serenade with “a gorgeous song about cheating” (the gut-wrenching, but beautiful, “Broken Vow”), were always smile-worthy.

 And if they broke up the fluidity of the show, well, it was a worthwhile tradeoff to experience more of that Groban charm.

Follow me on Twitter: @ajclifestyle

8 comments Add your comment

MaryA

June 9th, 2011
10:54 am

From where I sat, the stage set-up took up about 1/2 the arena, which was full, not that many empty seats. I also enjoyed the smaller state in the center that rose up from the floor that he performed from also, especially since I was seated in the section a few feet from that area. Was a fantastic show, best I have seen, other than Neil Diamond, and he did sing his *&^ off for us. Ended way to quickly. His opening act, Elew, while a little bizarre, was great, and I have never seen a pianist play the strings (not sure of technical term) inside the piano, and look like a wild, mad man while doing it.

Cheryl

June 9th, 2011
1:10 pm

Have seen him multiple times and gets better every time! Not many empty seats and having the stage that rose in the middle was great :) Got to see him closer than we expected!!

Lora

June 9th, 2011
2:08 pm

I love Josh Groban’s music, but wasn’t sure what else to expect from him other than great music. Wow, I was shocked. His concert was a pure delight in every way. He was funny–really funny!! I didn’t expect him to have such a great sense of humor. He also projected warmth and so much personality to the audience. As mentioned in the blog, the only thing missing was a video screen. Everything else was perfect. It was a thoroughly enjoyable two hours that flew right by. His voice was flawless and sounded just as great in person as he does on his CDs.

dutchraspberry

June 10th, 2011
8:48 am

I haven’t been to the concert (will go to two Euro-shows in October ;) ) but I noticed the pictures on your site – the pianist is Mark Stephens, not Zachary Provost… perhaps you can change the caption?

MA

June 10th, 2011
5:31 pm

WOW!!!! We got the tickets for our 19 year old daughter, Sara, as a surprise gift for doing so well in her first year at college. She made the Dean’s List both semesters!!! She is a HUGE Josh Groban fan!! It was also her first concert. Little did we know that we had the best seats. When we walked onto the floor to find our seats I poked Sara when I saw a piano right by us. I said to her, “Won’t it be awesome if he actually comes and plays this piano right here beside us?” Sara said, “Mom, you just jinxed it, it will probably be someone from his band.” Not only did he play 4 songs from that piano, but, he walked up the stairs right in front of us to start his show!!! Sara was in heaven!!!!!! The look on her face was priceless! What a great night!

Jene' Gladstone

June 12th, 2011
5:46 pm

My mother and I went to this concert. She bought the tickets as soon as they went on sale and got the best tickets available (front row, middle section, on the floor). Gwinnett Arena is a venue that is just the right size for concerts like this (saw Martina McBride here a few years ago). It’s big enough, but not too big, and great acoustics and greats seats everywhere.

I had no idea what to expect from Josh Groban. I like some of his music, but was not familiar with a vast amount of it. The tone of his concert was set immediately upon his arrival out into the audience, and unexpectedly from the side/rear of the venue! He was very relaxed and down-to-earth and he greeted us. I was actually very surprised how approachable he made himself from the first minutes of his show. He did his first several pieces from a platform state directly in the middle of the audience. It was such a treat.

The setting for the concert on the front stage was simple, yet visually appealing, with lighting and projected images to match the mood of the music he was playing. Loved ALL his music. He easily sang the melodies, and preceded each piece with an explanation of its inspiration or meaning. The rest of his stage “crew” were wonderful in their own accord with their instruments and enthusiasm the one or two times Josh took a 2-minute breather.

Josh Groban must’ve passed inches away from us about 10 times as he passed through the audience back and forth between stages, when he answered texted questions, as he came searching for folks to pull up on stage. The single funniest point of the evening, was when he was cooing over the small baby/toddler. Many of us had seen this child and remarked how cute (assuming it was a girl with the curls and attire she had on). Well, he assumed also that the child was a girl, only to be corrected that “she” was in fact a “he”. {cringe!} I have certainly made this mistake in the past, and was feeling embarrassed for him..but he recovered with grace in a very likable way, and simply asked why “he” had a dress on. He later pulled “his” older 11-year old sister up on stage (one of four people he sang to). He also allowed a audience member to come up and sing with him.

Overall a brilliant concert ~ a very comfortable atmosphere, exquisite music, friendly performer, perfect venue. ☼

Sara

June 13th, 2011
10:59 am

I have to say…. I love Josh Groban. Though to be honest, I was really not looking forward to it only because it was Wednesday and I had a long drive to/from August (approx. 5 hrs drive total). At 7:30 pm a guy who introduced himself as Elew played piano. Unfortunately, I was not happy because I just thought he sounded as though he was banging on the piano…not saying he wasn’t talented, just that I did not care for what he was playing. I was surprised and highly irritated that he not only played for 30 minutes, but I had a slight headache and his “music” just made it worse. Also, at 8:00 pm we then had to wait another 30 minutes on nothing. People were just chatting and the couple in front of me were getting on my nerves….however, at 8:30 pm, I heard shouts behind me and when I turned around, 20 feet away on center stage was Josh Groban and that’s when I began to have the time of my life. He has such a beautiful voice and he was really personable and funny. Unfortunately, while he did run from the center stage to the front and back, I was on the other side of the floorseats and therefore, missed out on this but seeing his concert was worth the drive, the headache, and the annoying couple in front of me. Overall, I had a wonderful time and when I left, I was all smiles and my headache was gone. My only wish is that there was a viewing screen for those who did not have floorseats so they could see what I saw.

Tabb

June 14th, 2011
11:23 am

Lora took the words right out of my mouth! Josh’s voice is absolutely INCREDIBLE, but I had no idea he would be so entertaining, funny, & such an unbelievable pleasure to watch. I just wanted the show to go on & on & on! I agree that it was disappointing that there was no screen to show his face close-up, but it’s probably impossible to have one since he moves all over the place so quickly!! Wish I could go to EVERY concert!!! I was lucky that my friend won free tickets to see him, but I would gladly pay $$$ – he is worth every penny. He is just a wonderful person with a beautiful voice & personality!