Josh Groban at Toyota Center, 11/12/2013
The scent of mothballs wafted over Josh Groban's concert Wednesday night at Toyota Center: not from the music, just all the clothing returned from winter storage on Houston's first truly cold evening since, what, February? The 32-year-old L.A. native may be an unusual young pop star these days -- witness the performers who will occupy the same building tonight and tomorrow, Drake and Rihanna -- but Groban has demonstrated the kind of broad appeal that spans generations, if not so much genders.
Despite a cover of "Dream On" that brought out the Tchaikovsky underpinnings of Aerosmith's classic '70s power ballad, Groban's sound is almost 100 percent rock-free (let alone rap), so it's all too easy for critics raised on those two genres to be dismissive of his talents. His kind of music favors execution over attitude, emotion over irony, and precision over posturing, so of course it's uncool. (This is a guy whose big break came as a last-minute substitution for Andrea Bocelli for a Celine Dion duet at the Grammys, after all.)
Then Groban opens his mouth and you're like, whoa.
Groban is a fine singer in English, with a keen ear and a preference for complex, melancholy character studies like Jimmy Webb's "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress" and Don McLean's "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)" to go with more sentimental originals like "February Song." A personal highlight was the medieval Irish tune "She Moved Through the Fair," a wedding song with a deep undertone of sadness.
Yes, some of his more inspirational songs ("The Prayer," "To Where You Are") verged on being a little too Hallmark-y, but hey, they're supposed to be. You would have to be a mighty cynical Grinch indeed to not feel some sort of upwelling during "You Raise Me Up," his lone encore that left one lady in particular wanting more (see "Overheard").
But when Groban switches tongues to one of the Romance languages, as he did several times ("Un Alma Mas," "Sincera," Voce Existe Em Mim"), Groban's sonorous borderline tenor/baritone goes into a completely different gear. The vowels open up, and his voice rises to meet the end of a phrase. He's a pro.
All night Groban and his music director (also his electric guitarist, whose name escaped me) deftly balanced intimate songs that showcased an orchestra member or two, and expansive production numbers like the cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Believe When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever" that closed out the main set, featuring the University of Houston concert chorale.
Pulled from all ends of the earth -- Ukraine, Cameroon, Finland, New York, Boston, the horns and strings from right here in Houston -- his band had no difficulty with the kind of intricate, cinematic sound most moviegoers would recognize from those scenes where the camera is flying over a vast, panoramic landscape at top speed; pure grandeur and exaltation.
Review continues on the next page.