Josh Groban at The O2 Dublin – Review
Josh Groban played the O2 Arena in Dublin on Sunday 23rd of June. It was the end of his recent tour and a triumphant return to one of his best loved cities!
The huge venue filled quickly with hundreds of Groban fans, eagerly watching the warmly lit, instrument packed stage. This excitement built palpably until finally the lights went down and the orchestra took to the stage and climaxed in an incredible roar as Josh appeared onstage in black jeans and blazer teamed with a white t-shirt and shoes.
He opened with no introduction, going straight into ‘Brave’ as the stage burst alight. The music seemed to sound not in your ears, but right in the centre of your body-like when you listen to your favourite song at top volume; overwhelming in the best way possible! Echoed vocals and incredible sustained notes made for an overall combination that wow-ed even the most hardcore of fans. The roar that followed was deafening!
The orchestra continued straight on into the next track ‘False Alarms’, with gentle almost magical sounding xylophone which was then overlapped with tribal-sounding percussion. Higher vocal moments contrasted beautifully with deeper, richer sounding moments as lights swept the audience. As Groban walked to different sides of the stage during the song, the fans in the area burst into applause. The song ended with Groban standing in a lone spotlight.
Having kicked off the show, the baritone then stopped to say hello, revealing a friendly and funny demeanour that made his talent all the more awe-inspiring because he was so down-to-earth. He expressed his delight at a collective of lumo-heart wielding women in the front seats, describing it as ‘Rave night at the bingo parlour’ and threatening to ‘drop some dubstep’ on us. He then described his time in Ireland including cliffs in Wicklow and Guinness for breakfast!
The next track was ‘February Song’ which saw Groban at the grand piano and was a little more classical and showed off his baritone voice that is his trademark. Glow-sticks and hands swayed in the air, especially when the soulful vocals hit the high notes during the chorus and actually sent chills through the audience. Afterwards he spoke a little about his love for singing in Spanish before performing the classic ballad ‘Un Alma Mas’. This, of course, had spectacular Spanish style guitar and percussion. The passionate music was combined with romantic, rosy lighting and a single spotlight. A mind-blowing, mid-way trumpet solo made the listener feel like tango-dancing on a moonlit beach!
After a blackout of the lights, Groban introduced an old Irish song he’d fallen in love with, Richard Thompson’s ‘She Moves Through The Fair’. He sang with just a hint of vibrato that is common to the style of Irish ballads and he kept the music simple at the start with just guitar and a hint of percussion before bringing in the violin. There was absolute hush during the violin solo and a section where Josh sang with only piano accompaniment, breath-taking!
Josh took time after every song to credit the soloists in particular and had an obvious rapport with the orchestra he was working with. After the following gloriously triumphant Spanish number, accompanied by dramatic red lights and loud music, he took some time to chat with the audience. Someone from what he eloquently described as ‘the spit zone’ gave him a rather surprising gift. He couldn’t help exclaiming ‘my fans confuse me sometimes’ when he opened it to reveal three small rubber duck. He did, however, place them about the stage, including on the head of his guitarist!
He also answered a series of questions that were sent in by fans before the concert. He struggled valiantly to pronounce Irish and Polish names and answered the questions in an amusing and self-deprecating manner that really helped him connect with the fans. One woman was even allowed to join him onstage to teach him how to jive! The audience got a great laugh out of the section of the evening but Groban seemed relieved when he was back to what he does best-singing!
He started back in with a song by Jimmy Webb-‘The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress’. It was powerfully beautiful- like something out of Les Miserables and the final note on the strings was haunting. This was followed by the Italian ‘Mia Per Sempre’, a passionately dramatic number that should have been the soundtrack of some climactic, fateful moment. He sustained the final high note for an astoundingly long time. He then swapped to a soft-rock sound with ‘Hollow Talk’ whose drums and bass had the seats shaking and heads nodding hypnotically as the music exploded and Groban’s voice swelled to match its intensity.
After the overwhelming sensation of the previous song, there was a musical interval showcasing the violin soloist who was splendidly accompanied by the rest of the strings creating a lovely Irish melody that had the audience clapping along. There was a brief burst of applause as they segued into the melancholy opening of Aerosmith’s ‘Dream On’ which took off as the guitar screamed its arrival. Afterwards there was an energetic solo section from the drums and percussionist where Groban himself took to a drum kit! This was a moment where the onstage band could have a bit of fun together onstage.
He sang a French track from his new album before running out into the audience, singing the circus tune, to select fans to fill empty front row seats! He did admit to being slightly afraid of the ‘grabby’ women and that he didn’t think him and his ‘bruised butt-cheek’ would be venturing out into the audience again!
He spoke briefly about the Irish film ‘Once’, which he considers a modern, romantic classic before singing his own rendition of ‘Falling Slowly’ which moved many audience members to tears. He sang it a little stronger and deeper than the soft huskiness of Hansard’s version but utilised harmonies and heart wrenching high notes in the chorus so that hands were waving in the air.
He gave an uplifting little speech for all the singletons at his show, being single himself, before singing his song ‘Happy In My Heartache’. It was just a touch country with a reminiscence of Paul Simon with its prominent acoustic guitar and upbeat tone. He sang another song close to his heart from his time on ‘Ally McBeal’; ‘To Where ‘To Where You Are’ just him and the grand piano and dozens upon dozens of camera phones lighting up like constellations. A sudden contrast to this followed with flashing lights and a techno style intro. The people at the front were on their feet dancing and swaying to ‘Machine’. There was a real party atmosphere during this song especially during the spectacular brass interval and jazzy piano solo. In fact it almost became a musical battle between the piano and the electric guitar with each taking turns at prominence.
The final few songs were some of the best of the evening. ‘I Believe When I Fall In Love It’ll Be Forever’ by Stevey Wonder carried the audience on a swell of sound and got a standing ovation as the wall of the choirs voices joined the final burst of music. He came back onstage to regale us with ‘Awake’ a song that, for him, described the feeling of incredible gigs like this. It built and built to an emotional peak and was a warmingly tender song.
His final song was one that may of his friends were waiting for throughout the whole concert. He actually first heard it in a cab right here in Dublin and asked us to sing along. When the titanic like open strains of ‘You Raise Me Up’ started a roar swelled to meet them. His deep rich voice spread like velvet over the audience while the audience sang high and sweet. The choir re-joined as the music built and the audience stood one by one to join in the ocean of voices. It was magic. Powerful. A truly phenomenal finish.
Josh Groban is a performer to his very core. He has a voice that refused to be overwhelmed by a large venue, a massive instrumental accompaniment or a screaming crowd. He brings a slice of his personality to the table with his joking around and story-telling between songs and obviously has a fantastic energy. Every musician with him from the stage to the soundbox was smiling and so were his audience. One hell of a show!
Review by Kat Clinch