Saturday Night: Josh Groban At Toyota Center

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Photos by Jay Lee
Josh Groban
Toyota Center
May 14, 2011

Josh Groban is an unusual pop star. Unusual for 2011, anyway.

One hundred years ago, many "pop stars" as we think of the term today drew their repertoires from light opera and Italian bel canto. The vocal techniques and subject matter - love and betrayal, God and nature, the art of singing and power of song - were largely the same as they had been for centuries, but infant technologies like the phonograph and Marconi's wireless allowed singers like Enrico Caruso to reach an unprecedented level of international fame.

But then came jazz, Tin Pan Alley and Broadway, rhythm and blues, the Grand Ole Opry, Elvis, the Brill Building, Michael Jackson, hip-hop, Stock Aitken Waterman, Max Martin and American Idol. In today's pop culture, an operatic singer selling out a sports arena would be like a horse-drawn carriage winning the Daytona 500.

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Enter Groban, who did that very thing (or close to it) Saturday at Toyota Center. Granted, the cycles of the preceding paragraph have not completely bypassed the 30-year-old musician. Even with his abundant classical training, no one as gifted - and as young - as Groban could have avoided soaking up something. Man does not live by Puccini alone.

With their fluid rise-and-fall piano lines, opener "Changing Colors" could have easily passed for Elton John, and the way Groban got inside Neil Diamond's "Play Me" ("You are the words/ I am the tune") in the encore was nothing if not intuitive. Late in the set, "Weeping" had a hint of Technicolor Afropop (call it Graceland meets The Lion King) and "Machine" let the band cut loose with some steamy hothouse jazz-funk.

Speaking of Groban's band, the 15 or so people joining him onstage seemed equally culled from the ranks of orchestras (string quartet, brass) and primo New York or L.A. session musicians (drums, percussion, guitar, bass), and played like it. Groban himself showed off some impressive percussion chops on the extended intro of "Voce." But as much of a pleasure as it was listening to such skilled musicians, a couple of things took some getting used to.

Allow us to explain: Our rock-hardened ears almost never find themselves in such a blues-free environment of any size, let alone one as big as Toyota Center. Hand in hand, it took us a while to adjust the complete lack of cynicism in ballads like "Awake," "You Are Loved," and "Higher Window." Groban introduced the latter as about romantically imbalanced feelings (we're paraphrasing), and bundled it in the hope of its refrain "just don't tell me it's too late for me to love you" rather than any bitterness whatsoever.


Location Info

Map

Toyota Center

1510 Polk, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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8 comments
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Betty Gray. Chris's mom
Betty Gray. Chris's mom

Well, Chris, you and Josh now have something in common--the Mom's Award for Excellence; you for a great review and Josh for a great show!Love, Mom (yes, dear, it's really me and I do read your reviews occasionally)

Shelley Lewis
Shelley Lewis

All this and more..a man of incredible talent and stage presence...as well as just a lot of fun to be around!! He raises me up, for sure! Thanks for the remarkable show, Josh!

Camgram04
Camgram04

Great review. TheonethingI wanted to clarify is that the foreign language song Voce Existe En Mim is Portugese, not Italian.

rocksoffsr
rocksoffsr

Thank you. I took German... please forgive my novicehood with Romance languages. They were all beautiful Saturday.

Vernon Williams
Vernon Williams

I wasn't there, but it sounds like it was a very cool show.  I saw a few operas and ballets many years ago, when I was younger, because the woman I was I was going with liked them, and while I didn't hate them, they weren't really my thing, being a bit too stylized for my personal taste.

That said, I found myself highly pleased by several shows at the Mucky Duck in the last year, basically opera shows.

One of the current Mucky Duck waitpersons, Abi Levis, is a talented opera singer who has been studying at UH Moore's School of Music, has had shows on both coasts, is about to move to New York City to further her career.  Because of her, the Duck ended up putting on several opera nights, the first last fall, where 20 or so students from Moore's School of music did a number of songs, mostly opera, but a few otherwise.

One to three students would go on stage for one number, then one to three more for another number, and so on.  I went mostly out of curiosity and to support Abi, but I found myself very impressed and enjoyed myself very much.  I have heard a number of good music voices over the years, but never so many superb voices in one place at one time.  There were two shows that night, with me having a ticket for the first.  But after hearing the first, I immediately got a ticket for the second show as well and was equally pleased.

A few months later, they did a similar show that was equally good.  Then recently they did something a little different, a fairly short Mozart comic opera in two different versions, the first traditional, the second updated to the current day, with Mafiosi and the like, with appropriate costumes and props for each version.  Both versions were also quite enjoyable and well done.

Rich P
Rich P

Great review! Thanks especially for calling out War at Home, an important and moving song that should be getting lots of attention.

Nice point about understanding the foreign-language songs just from the emotion he puts into them, but I have to say that the reason you understood Galileo is that it's in English.

rocksoffsr
rocksoffsr

 Good point. Make that "Alla Luce," and the reason I enjoyed "Galileo" because it reminded me of Coldplay's "The Scientist."

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

Stunning review and great learning at least for me.

Me thinks the Music Editor needs to schedule himself for more NFL level concerts and allow the newbies to review Division III level concert noise and jams.

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