Oct 21, 2013

Josh Groban and Judith HIll at United Center on October 20, 2013

Photo of Judith Hill visiting with her fans after her set and a photo of one of the JG refrigerator magnets for sale at the merchandise table.  Big hair and handsome!

Photo of the stage with cool bulb lights and screens hanging above it.

A Josh Groban concert? You are far more likely to find other Josh's on my iPod and concert going list (Josh Ritter, Josh Rouse, Josh Radin to name a few).  I was invited to review Groban during his "In The Round" tour however, at the United Center!  A REAL review gig! It could not be passed up and best of all, the opening act was soul singer Judith Hill, a back up vocalist for Michael Jackson and a 2012 finalist of The Voice, my favorite vocal talent show.  I thought this was an interesting pairing but it wound up working beautifully.  I speculate that Hill had to tone down her "look" for the show wearing only a simple white top and black pants to complement Groban's attire (not including her 8 foot, sky high, life of its own, hair).  On The Voice, Hill was one of the more outrageously dressed and did her best to stand apart from her competitors.  After her set, Hill graciously came out and posed for pictures with each of her fans.  She seemed a bit tired of doing the Paparazzi thing but I think she should pretend to be more engaged and interested while posing with fans.  I could not help but wonder if she is disappointed about where she has landed post-Voice.  Likely so.  I have a hard time believing that she thought she would tour with Groban as her stepping stone.
So as a first-time Groban concert goer, I learned a few things.  Groban, I already knew, has a great tenor voice but what I did not know was that he was a bad-ass drummer, can sing in spanish and is a pretty talented comedian.  Turns out he is also a songwriter, musician, producer and actor. Groban became a multi-platinum artist in 2007 and he was the #1 best selling U.S artist for his Christmas album that year. 
 At the merch table before the show, I found it amusing that they were selling drumsticks with his name on them.  To me this did not make sense since, being an authority on all things Groban (not), I turned to my friend Pippa and said "Isn't it weird that they are selling drumsticks when he does not even play drums?!".  Wrong I was!  He rocks the drums! Check out the video I took at the show:

His singing style is definitely smooth, buttery, pitch perfect and decidedly Disney/Broadway in character.  The bright white (don't step on me) oxford/capezio dance shoes that he wore did not help to dispel this comparison.  Most of his songs are not upbeat but more inspirational (perhaps Christian would be fair to say?).  His biggest hit, a rendition of "You Raise Me Up" pretty much sums that up.  An older more conservative crowd showed for this event and the show was suitable for all ages (you won't see any twerking here).  However there was one PG13 funny moment where Groban referred to himself as a "douche" for buying a copy of his own first CD when they became available at Virgin Records.  He indicated that the clerk had no idea who he was.   That clerk likely knows who he is now because Grobin has a lot of fans judging from the venue size and after talking to some folks who had seen him three or more times.  The crowd however was not a partying one. The women's bathroom line was 4 times longer than the line at the bar.  Sunday's are dry in some states though.  Did we time travel to Utah?  I digress.

Here is Groban at the piano:

Word on the street is that Groban's comfort level has greatly improved and he did not always crack slightly off-color jokes or talk to the crowd as if it is an essential part of the show.   He spent a significant amount of time providing self-deprecating humor.  He asked a male fan "Did you get dragged here by your girlfriend, wife or grandmother?".  He then went on to joke about his stint on the Ally McBeal show and how when the producer asked if he could act he replied "Sure, I can act!  I played the role of Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof in high school".  This you could easily picture.  He was likely 17 when he sang on Ally McBeal and it was quite impressive.   I was able to find his debut on Ally McBeal on YouTube so check it out. 

Groban also hosted a Q & A with the audience who had tweeted questions to him.  The question that got the most laughs was from an older woman who wanted to know "What playground equipment are you most afraid of?".  He told a story about when he had his arm broken when he was in 6th grade.  Without skipping a beat he added "by a kindergartner".  This took place on a jungle gym so now he is most afraid of jungle gyms in the design of a space ship.

Groban sang "In the Round" meaning that the stage was set up on the middle of the arena floor.  This required everyone on stage to move around throughout the show to give equal time to all sides of the venue.  I was often wondering if I was getting more "back time" than others seated across the arena.   You do get the sense that it would not be impolite to check your emails or send an important text when the performer is singing to the other side of the venue (if their back is to you they would never know right?).  On the flip side of the coin, this type of set-up creates a more intimate feeling even in a large space.  I don't believe that the sound was compromised at all. 

One of the main highlights of the night for me was a solo performed by Groban's violinist.  It was WOW and I mean WOW CAPITALIZED AND YELLING!  I won't give it away by telling you the song it morphs into but it is a long-standing favorite for a lot of us.   Check it out here:

The show lasted about two hours and features Groban, Groban and Hill singing duets, the back up musicians (particularly the violinist and trumpeter), and the Apollo Chorus.  Between singing crooner vocals at the piano, performing covers of favorite songs (Stevie Wonder's "I believe next time when I fall in love it will be forever", playing rapid fire drums,  funny man antics, and his fabulous musicians (can you say violinist?), Groban was a true entertainer and showman.  I did wonder how it would have been without the comedy, Judith Hill, the mini-marathon of stage movement, and those instrumentalists.  Certainly not as fun but maybe more soothing if that is what you crave.  Groban is an approachable star, one that you can easily relate to and feel comfortable kicking back with.   He should take me to dinner or for coffee!   Call me when you are next in town dude and we can reminisce over the great laughs we all had years ago watching Ally McBeal (remember "the baby" and the long scary tongues?).  For me, this performance was perfect on a Sunday night.  Sit back, relax, be entertained and home by 11pm.  I would definitely see Groban again.  It would be similar to seeing a Broadway musical, even the same good one, twice.   You can also make it a family outing since it is suitable for all ages.  Even Groban would encourage you to bring grandma.

Dinner and Parking Tip!

Since you read all the way to the bottom you get to benefit from the blog tip of the day!  I recommend having dinner at Carmichael's.  You can leave your car there in the lot and they offer free valet and shuttle bus service to the show.  The food was very prompt and good since they are well schooled on helping people eat and leave in time for a game or show at the United Center.  The bus driver was an army veteran and a kind, responsible man.  Tip him nicely but save $25 in parking at a United lot.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. I saw them when they were here in Sacramento in October. He was humorous and great with the audience. I was looking to see what the name of the song, it was a love song about falling in love that Lauryn Hill sang, I think it was her last song. If anyone knows what song it was, let me know.