(Photos: Paul Trinh)
Spontaneity in a live concert setting can work wonders when an artist is attempting to charm an audience and provide perspective to the fans proving that he can actually sing and have a personality all the while. It proved to work well in a conservatively budgeted and fan-friendly concert by Josh Groban last night in Providence. But it can’t work too well for some other artists who rely on the tightly-executed production spectacles to compensate for whatever talent they can scrape up (Justin Bieber? Britney?).
Casually starting off the evening on a mid-floor piano platform set amidst the throng, Groban simply appeared from the rear arena to perform the first piano ballad. Getting cozy with his fans, it shows that, hey Josh Groban is just one of us. No dapper wardrobe a la Michael Bublé, no built-up entrance a la Gaga, just everyday-old Josh with some hipster sneakers and his typically shaggy ‘do.
Performing his hits is what he came to do, and he did, rather straightforwardly. Entering into the homestretch of the “Straight To You” Tour, the singer focused on a living-room context, delivering the songs for the fans with his fans. With his previous tours, the showmanship and visual media did stand out more that resulted in more of a fulfilling concert experience. Having covered all that, the next bold step is to strip it down and go for the organic. At one point in the evening, Groban justified this approach by stating that the tour budget all went into the looming faux-brick wall and fractured half-arch that framed the stage. That explains the lack of pyrotechnics, bursts of confetti and the gospel choir to bring down the house.
The budget also went expertly to the onstage collective of musicians. With 13 members all reinforcing different nuances of Groban’s catalog: a jam of percussion boards, a string ensemble, a horn couplet and a trumpeter, the live arrangements sounded complete, but felt restrained. However, it’s the deep, operatic baritone of Groban’s that the Grobanites, as his fans are usually referred to, came to hear. It’s audibly remarkable ever more so when at the start of the sweeping patriotic ballad “War At Home”, he quickly switched from his mid-range banter voice into a stronger and lower timbre.
The close-out stop of the tour will be in Groban’s newly adopted home of New York City at Madison Square Garden next Monday.
JOSH GROBAN @ Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Providence, RI