The Awake Tour Concert
label: Warner Bros
our score: 5 out of 5.0
As I was getting ready to attend the Josh Groban concert Wednesday, July 25th in Uniondale, New York, I prepared myself to enjoy a vocal performance pleasing to the ear. I did not anticipate the typical ostentatious sound, high energy or over-the-top show many pop acts have. I was more realistic. This wasn’t necessarily going to be a “fun” concert; it was to be sweet, but on the slightly boring side. After all, I had seen Andrea Bocelli before, whose voice is also that of an angel’s, and it was exactly what I expected…a night of culture and beautiful soaring notes. When the crowd rose to their feet, it wasn’t to dance, it was for an ovation. So as I settled into my seat, I had resigned myself to a quiet and enjoyable evening. The moment Groban arrived on stage however, I knew my preconceived notions were dead wrong.
The 7:30 pm opening act at Nassau Coliseum was Angelique Kidjo, a Benin born singer, performing Afro-pop songs heavy on the percussion. The first couple of tunes was quiet nice, but soon wore out their welcome as they all seemed to sound the same to those unfamiliar with her music. Amongst her set-list was a rendition of the Rolling Stones’ "! Gimme Shelter." To give credit, her band carried on splendidly and Kidjo kept the energy positive and light. After their half hour set and a 15 minute intermission, the lights went dark, the splashed yellow-orange curtain rose, and Groban’s voice sounded in the roaring stillness. He began with an ode to his fans, singing "You Are Loved (Don‘t Give Up)" off of his latest album, Awake. And so began the Josh Groban experience.
An orchestra line, playing throughout the night, sat in a semi-circle in the back, as his band played in the middle of the stage. Josh emerged from beneath the stage to the fore-front. While some can barely speak one language, Groban sang effortlessly in English, Spanish and Italian, marking each canzone with his soothing baritone. Songs included were "Alle Luce Del Sole," "Mai," and encore song, "Canto Alla Vita," dedicato to the international Grobanites in the arena. The romance was not missed, as he devoted "So She Dances" to the ladies. The strings shone in Italian ballad, “Un Giorno Per Noi (Romeo e Giulietta).” He took to the piano during “February Song” and “Remember When It Rained.” He showed the beauty of simple ballad "Lullaby" and the fierce instrumentation of "Awake” and "Machine."
This young phenomenon had a commanding presence to match his powerful voice and he engaged the crowd with surprising humour. One would think that because Josh Groban sings adult contemporary and operatic notes, and is blessed with a cute, innocent face, that he is of a serious, quiet character. This is a good example of why one should never judge a book by its cover. Groban joshed of his music being the mood setter for men to their ladies. After his duet with Kidjo, she attempted to get him to dance, tugging at his belt playfully, prompting an over-zealous fan to toss him a few singles for the strip tease many hoped for, but ultimately didn’t happen. (He dutifully returned the cash, saying ‘I can’t accept this; you paid enough for those seats.’) He blushed, he joked, he was gr acious and truly delightful. He was like the dorky kid in class who you can’t help but love, and probably isn’t as dorky as you thought. Lesson learned: never assume.
He sat at the piano and teased with a line of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted: Dead Or Alive.” Josh even hit the drums at one point, showing his diversity on various musical instruments, just as his songs touch on different styles on the Awake album. There was a moment when I had to remind myself where I was. Lucia Micarelli, the first violinist, began an extraordinary solo, which turned into a full fledged, spot-on version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” backed by his band, making me wonder, had I stumbled into a rock concert by mistake? That is an orchestra busting out Zeppelin music, right? Why am I looking at Josh Groban as if he’s a total rock star? But in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t off kilter at all. The set, though elegantly designed took on a new edgy look with the light show. That, coupled with Groban’s laid back attire, (beginning with a red graphic t-shirt, black blazer, jeans and sneakers) and his charisma, running back and forth, hitting the drums, flaunting a strip-tease…how different was it really from a rock concert?
After Micarelli’s splendid playing, Josh emerged from the stands of the bleacher creatures across from the stage, singing “In Her Eyes” while shaking hands of screaming, adoring fans. Coming out to his final encore, he paid homage to the home hockey team, by donning a New York Islanders jersey, to a rousing round of appreciative applause. Ending the night with "You Raise Me Up," complete with a strong choir on each side of the stage, it was clear that he had successfully raised the audience’s expectations up. Josh Groban was enchanting, open, charming and funny. The Awake Tour definitely awoke the senses of the audiences in a beautiful night of song.