In an era when autotuning has effectively masked the tone-deaf caterwauling of countless numbers of pop “vocalists,” it’s nice to hear a singer who can, you know, sing (are you listening, Ke$ha?). When Josh Groban breaks out that creamy baritone on a squishy pop ballad like “You Are Loved,” you stop caring that his style is perhaps too adult-contemporary for serious music fans, too popera for classical music lovers, and you just rinse in the rich glow of his voice.
Groban can still pull in crowd, as he showed to a well-attended concert at American Airlines Center on Monday night. What’s fascinating about his demographic is, there is no demographic; we sat next to another gay couple; a middle-aged straight couple sat in front of us; teenagers squealed at the 30-year-old mophead from floor seats; and an 8-year-old attended with her mom, a Hispanic woman in her 30s. Guys and gals wore Groban T-shirts (they pawed at him so much as he worked his way repeatedly through the throng, I thought he might wanna rename himself Josh Gropin’). It was an ecumenical musical experience, with everyone there knowing what they were getting and walking away satisfied.
It’s been almost exactly 10 years since Groban burst on the scene, rehearsing with Celine Dion at the Grammys then getting a features role on Ally McBeal, and going from gangly kid to romantic star almost overnight. Groban gravitates (he admits this) to sad, slow songs that showcase his deliberate, fully rounded vocal chops. He’s a bit Vegas showman, moving his performance space several times from an elevated platform at center court with an upright piano to his full band at the end of the arena, slapping hands as he moves through the audience.
This concert is toned down (and thus more intimate) than his last trip through Texas. He works the intimacy, though, if you can call it that at AAC. He took text-message questions from the audience, bringing several onstage for a serenade and one girl joined him for a duet (she was good). He massaged the crowd, with his knowledgable references to Denton and Dallas and the Mavs, and shouting “Howdy!” as he noted the Dallas stop was only the third date on the tour — “We’re fresh as daisies!” he claimed.
He’s also leaning more commercial. There was a time more than half his repertoire was in Italian or Spanish; now, he still has some foreign-language songs but it’s the English ones that dominate. “Bells of New York City” seduced with notes of an Irish ballad, and “Higher Window” was made for adult radio play. “Galileo” and “Awake” were mostly unfamiliar to his fans, but he sold them nonetheless.
Groban has boyish charm that belies his big voice. If you want to dismiss him as popera, be my guest; but do take a moment to listen to his voice sometime, just for its qualities and tone, and tell me it doesn’t draw you in.