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Josh Groban Awake in Calgary

The finale of my summer of indulgence came with a bang. August 15 is going to be a memorable date. Close to 20,000 of us at the Pengrowth Saddledome, home to the Calgary Flames hockey team, witnessed an electrifying concert brimming with talents. Everyone who had a part in the production of the show, from the set design, the sound, the visual and stage effects, the arrangement of the music, to the performance on stage, had demonstrated superfluous expertise in putting together such a show. It was a non-stop, 2 hours of pure entertainment and inspiration.

The concert “Awake” was opened by “You Are Loved” (Don’t Give Up), with Groban rising to the challenge, literally, from beneath the stage to appear in a charismatic presence, to the cheers of a long-awaiting audience. Yes, over an hour had passed since we’d settled in our seats, the first 40 minutes listening to a spirited West African band led by Kidjo, the several-times Grammy nominee. Well prepped and roused up for the main event, the audience was left waiting for another 25 minutes. As soon as the curtain opened I realized it was all worth it. The initial attraction was the tastful and grandeur stage design, and the corresponding video and lighting in the background, as well as movable lighted panels above for added effects. Groban was backed by a 15-member orchestra, a 6-piece band, and at the front, on one side, cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, and the other , violinist Lucia Micarelli.

Other numbers from the album Awake soon followed, including “Mai”, “So She Dances”, “Machine”… But it was “Un Giorno Per Noi”, the adapted theme “A Time For Us” from the movie Romeo and Juliet that convinced the audience early on that it was going to be an unforgetable night. We were spellbound by Cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith’s introduction and accompaniment to the piece. Watching her play answers the question: “Why go to concerts when you can listen to the CD, or your iPod?” You go to a concert to see music in-the-making; you experience the sights and sounds and excitement of a massive conglomeration of talents displayed in producing the sounds you hear on your electronic device. Last night, all 20,000 of us were witnessing art-in-progress. In the same way, Lucia Micarelli’s solo rendition leading to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” was electrifying. She transformed the music into a visual fusion of exuberant energy and poetic dance.

It was a much more mature, confident, and relaxed Groban last night since his last concert in Calgary three years ago, commanding the stage with his energetic prance from one end to the other, without compromising the quality of his vocal deliverance. Always a crowd pleaser, but last night Groban showed a more mature side than the “every-mother’s-dream-son” image. Yes, he’s still that clean, wholesome, good humored, and gorgeous looking young man with a mesmerizing and powerful voice. On top of that, Groban also showed he has a social conscience. As clips of his visit to South Africa’s impoverished Soweto area were shown, with his cheering on the local children’s dance and songs, meeting the historical figure Nelson Mandela, he appealed to his concert audience to support the children charities projected on the giant screen.

“I am not a hero, I am not an angel, I am just a man…” as the lyrics from “In Her Eyes” were sung, Groban was spotlighted at the back of the dome weaving his way in through the enthusiastic crowd, touching the eager, out-stretched hands from both female and male audience. I know, Groban’s good guy persona irritates some, and turning away those who see being cool as being foul. He’s even been criticized for being ‘conservative’. But tell it to this crowd of thousands who paid up to $125 to see him, seems like ‘conservatism’ is alive and well.

Later on, Groban also demonstrated his versatility in several numbers in which he played the piano and the drums, like “Remember When It Rained”, and “Canto Alla Vita”, from his previous albums. The evening ended with a few encores, including the satisfying “You Raise Me Up” and a new piece that has not been recorded on CD.  This is the success of a singer performer, you don’t need to know a song to enjoy it.

Don’t get me wrong, the concert was not without flaws. In several places the lower registers seemed to pose some voice projection glitches for Groban. And towards the end physical exhaustion appeared to affect his act. All in all, such shortfalls paled in comparision to the whole night’s captivating performance. To the critics who may have deleted words synonymous with ‘wholesome’ from their dictionary, I’m glad mine has just a few more words. A most memorable concert experience.

~~~~ 4 Ripples

Photo Source: Sun Media

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