Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh was once again packed to capacity for Josh Groban on November 2, 2013. Groban is no stranger to Pittsburgh, having spent six months studying here at Carnegie Mellon University before being signed and whisked away into super-stardom. The trajectory of Groban has been a swift one since he was seventeen and he has become a household name since and a huge favorite among the ladies, not only for his swooning voice, but for his boyishly good looks as well.
While Groban may often be lumped in with the Bublé’s and such of the genre he is very vastly different and thus what makes him stand out. His operatic style and panache is quite evident right from the opening notes. When the lights went down it felt more like a theater production, violinist and trumpeter suddenly appearing in the audience, lights dazzling to the drums, and the symphonic type music sending the audience to a frenzied buzz in anticipation of their beloved musical wonder boy. And then he appeared, opening up with new song “Brave”.
In-between beautiful renditions of songs like “Vincent Starry Starry Night (a Don McClean cover)”, Groban told tales of his day in Pittsburgh and remembering why they call it the ‘Burg- due to freezing as he prepared for his performance when they had just covered the ice that the Pittsburgh Penguins play on. He went on to explain how much he loves singing in other languages just before he went into “Un Alma Mas”, a skill that so sets Groban into a different category than his contemporaries.
Josh went on to welcome the audience in his somewhat spastic speech pattern injected with humor, especially the first timers, “Welcome to the cult”. Then he went into something very special where he answered questions submitted by audience members. Calling out those in the audience by seat and name, he then interacted with them and read their questions. The first of these was, “If you could have anything in the world named after you what would it be?” After joking about, “What like a show pony? Here comes Galloping Groban around the corner only to be beaten by Bouncing Bublé!” (An amazing moment of self deprecation and humor). But then he answered truthfully that he would love to have ‘An Art Center’ named after him where he could give back to what has been given to him. Great Answer. The second question that came up was, “My fans would be surprised to know that I keep a _____ in my house.” Well, of course this led up to some very sly innuendos that got the audience laughing hysterically. What we came to learn though through all this is that Josh can’t cook, he has a dog that travels with him everywhere and thus he has dog toys everywhere in the house, and occasionally one will find a girlfriend in the house (although Groban did make an allusion to her possibly being inflatable). The third and last question allowed us all to see his impression abilities when he was asked, “What song are you embarrassed you know the words to?” This is when Groban broke out into some Beiber, moves and all, joking with the questioner by pointing back at her and saying in his best Beebs “I love you girl”, as well as cranking out some “Banana Phone”.
After this great interaction came a very heartfelt rendition of songwriter Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” , as well as “Remember When It Rained”, a duet with opener and the Voice alum Judith Hill. Groban’s band then jammed with “Dream On” which featured violinist Christian Hebel and musical director and guitarist Tariqh Akoni and a full band jam afterwards that showed off Groban’s own percussion skills with a scaled down drum set a la Sheila E.
Josh Introduced his next song “To Where You Are” by discussing how he got a part on Ally McBeal due to Robert Downey Jr.’s troubles at that time and he then went on to talk about his own Find Your Light Foundation, a come-what-may umbrella organization to help children in the many broken systems around the world. These have involved healthcare, food and shelter, education, and relief donations for tragedies that would occur without warning. The more Josh talked and sang the more endearing he became and one could see what ‘the cult’ was all about.
A gorgeous rendition of the old Irish song :She Moved Through The Fair” was a true highlight with the band coming out to the center stage to play basic instruments to a medieval tune. Judith Hill once again took the stage for a duet of “The Prayer”. a song that Groban first did at seventeen years old at The Grammy’s rehearsal with Celine Dion, an amazing story that almost did not happen. The East Coast Inspirational Singers joined him on the stage then to sing Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” that led to the big encore.
What any Groban fan will tell you before the show that they cannot wait for is, “You Raise Me Up”, his seemingly most beloved hit. There were not too many dry female eyes in the house at that point, leaving The Consol Energy Center to look somewhat akin to getting hit by a case of Beatlemania. Groban has an amazing career past him and ahead of him. It’s nice to think part of his history belongs here in Pittsburgh and maybe that is part of why the town clings to affectionately to him. For now they will cling to the memory of the evening until he returns again.
All photos ©2013 AWelding and Pittsburgh Music Magazine