He turned 30 in February, which means Josh Groban has been in the entertainment business for 13 years, nearly half his life.
You’d think a guy who was ordained in his teens by the likes of David Foster and David E. Kelley (with some help from Rosie O’Donnell) and has sold 31 million albums in the United States and Canada alone since 2001 would become something of a male prima donna, to borrow a phrase from Kelly Kapoor (“The Office”).
But Groban has evolved into something else: a guy who takes his craft seriously but himself with many grains of humor, wit and self-effacement. Wednesday night, he headlined a show at Sprint Center, where he showed off his talents and his personae.
Groban is poly-glottal and multi-instrumental. His voice – more smooth and polished than powerful – music genre require some hyphens: pop-classical-crossover. And his music, he admits, sometimes precariously straddles the line between “chivalrous and cheeseball.” He has managed to combine all of the above into something that is best described as family entertainment, assuming your family prefers tales of romance to recollections of sex and likes its music pretty, not gritty.
His show lasted nearly two hours and it included a mix of songs from his five studio albums, including “Illuminations,” released in November. He emerged from the back of the arena and took a seat at the piano, on the satellite stage, and opened with “Changing Colors,” one of the host of ballads, anthems and pop-arias he would sing all night.
He followed that with “You Are Loved (Don’t Give Up),” an inspirational ballad that lays on that thick cheese he was talking about. He would also perform “The Bells of New York City,” “Higher Window,” “War at Home,” an instrumental medley that included “Live and Let Die” (and some nifty drum work by Groban), “Galileo,” “Awake,” “Weeping,” “Machine” and “Play Me.”
His audience took most of it in casually and in repose, as if watching a PBS special on an enormous big-screen TV. He, however, took measures to stir the mood. Groban isn’t one to fire off songs one after another, as if they’re being issued from a jukebox. He connects with his crowd, employing little choreography or scripted dialogue He ventured into his audience (about 7,000 it looked like) several times, burly body guards in tow. At one point, he tried to elude them by running down a row of chairs of fans who were standing. They followed him, comically.
He took questions via texts and answered some of them during the show. One woman asked to sing a duet with him, and he called her bluff, escorting her from her seat to the satellite stage, where he ribbed her a bit. She then acquitted herself (barely) on a few measures of “The Prayer” (I think; I didn’t write it down). One fan offered him a stuffed blue elephant “for your dog.” He would retrieve it later, during another sortie into the crowd. After looking at it, he said: “The first dog this is going to is a bomb-sniffing dog.” Towards the end of the show, he trolled the crowd for long-time married couples. He ended up bringing on stage a husband and wife celebrating their 20th anniversary, a woman who said she was engaged but wasn’t with her fiancé and an 8-year-old girl. He sat them on inflated couches ands served the adults wine and the girl cake and milk. He then serenaded the couple with “Broken Vow,” a song about betrayal.
Happy anniversary. He ended with “You Raise Me Up,” a herculean inspirational ballad and one of his biggest hits. It’s a classic Groban song: lots of gaudy, musical heft with words to live by. It shows off his glossy pop-classical-crossover singer/songwriter side, although you could argue that’s not necessarily his more entertaining side.