Josh Groban embraces many forms of harmony at Greek Theatre

Josh Groban‘s final stop of his Harmony tour was a wonderful homecoming for the Los Angeles native, with his parents in the crowd, a music teacher and a variety of fans singing along and being wowed at the Greek Theatre on Tuesday. Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined as the tour opener, celebrating 60 years of their New Orleans charm as well as vocalist Eleri Ward. Groban was also joined by the brilliant violinist Lucia Micarelli, who also shared some vocal moments with the headliner.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band delighted with their seven-piece setup of trumpet, saxophone and trombone, tuba, keys, upright bass and drums for a lively and delicious gumbo of jazz and blues. Trumpet player Branden Lewis had a killer vocal on the outstanding blues song “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” with equally wonderful solo trumpet moments. The jazzy, uplifting “Keep Your Head Up” featured some solid keys from Kyle Roussel and a big tuba was added to the mix by Ben Jaffe for an extra punch. Preservation Hall Jazz Band concluded with the always infectious NOLA favorite “When The Saints Go Marching In”, taking the crowd away to that magical city and culture.

Tenor/baritone Josh Groban packed over 100 minutes of original material, pop covers, standards, foreign language songs and showtunes, while juggling personal stories, comedic chops and hitting all of his notes, falsetto and full voice. He took the stage in all black with a faint sparkle on his jacket, joined by an orchestra and band of 20 musicians, starting off with Frank Sinatra song “The World We Knew”, sounding like a Bond theme.

Photo by Alex Kluft

“I can’t believe that I’m in pants again,” said Groban. “We are bursting with gratitude that we are here again. I used to go on the pony rides here when I was four years old. This is the last night of the tour so we hope you enjoy”. Groban shouted out his hometown of course and continued with a new one off his Harmony album, called “Shape of My Heart” (recorded with Leslie Odom Jr.), with the strings opening the tune, singing along as they do throughout plus wonderful harmonies from guitarist Tariqh Akoni, who also serves as Musical Director.

“I got to sing that song with Sting”, said Groban. “Two songs in and I’m already dropping names, that’s our love language here”. LA culture aside, Groban talked about how he grew in the 90s and was inspired by a lot of UK genre-bending songs and played his new version of Robbie Williams’ “Angels”, after telling a witty story about receiving a bouquet of flowers from Williams after being impressed by Groban’s version. Josh Groban dedicated the song to frontline workers and made it sound like his own recording. The moving song was completely kicked up a notch by the band and orchestra.

Groban took the piano for “February Song”, after talking about his Awake album. “David Foster, who is a great figure in my life, said ‘don’t be a pain in the ass, sit down and write how you feel'”. There were some stunning melodic moments and Groban’s falsetto was also in perfect form, as the blue and yellow beams of light floated across the piano. There were some powerful notes, the arrangement was excellent and the guitar was also pretty special.

“And thank you to my mom and dad who are in the audience”, said Groban. “And thanks to them for having an instrument in the house, the piano was like therapy, something to exercise your freedom. I had a hard time and having really great teachers and arts teachers —there are teachers that see that, hey, ‘this kid needs a lift'”. Groban mentioned his music teacher chose him for a solo making him realize that singing was more of his language than his rambling on stage and he added that his music teacher was in the crowd”, followed of course by an thunderous applause.

“I wrote this song about that little kid”, said Groban. “When I was a kid, you had to bully me in person. This is a song about persevering to find your life, in spite of all of that, it’s called “Granted”. The piano intro was inviting and an eight-person choir took the stage. The empowering song with some gospel moments was particularly touching on the lyric, “Maybe it’s time you bet on yourself, listen to your heart, just listen to your heart and nobody else”.  Josh ended the tune with a big bass chord for extra impact.

Photo by Alex Kluft

“Believe it or not, I don’t think every song needs to be Grobanized”, said Groban. “The arrangers and the orchestrators are the ones behind the scenes”. He performed “She” with the strings kicking it off, blending some deep vocal notes that showcased Groban’s range and precision with dynamics. The beautiful instrumentation from the entire ensemble sounded like a beautiful score. 

After showing his appreciation for Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Josh Groban mentioned what a pleasure it was to introduce his special guest Lucia Micarelli who completely slayed her solo on violin. Then Micarelli started her violin on Ennio Morricone’s “Cinema Paradiso”, with the rest of the strings joining in on the gorgeous Italian piece. Micarelli’s musical mastery continued, joining Groban vocally for a duet of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” (which features Sara Bareilles on the recording). It was one of those magical moments during a live show where you’re not sure if it could possibly get any more beautiful.

A drum set was brought out during “Alla Lucie”, with Josh Groban hitting away during the lively Italian number while the powerful orchestra, guitars and drums elevated the drama. After some hilarious banter with a couple in the crowd who were just dating, Groban and the musicians played a cover of The Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love”, and it was of course beautiful.

A larger choir group on each side of the stage was back to perform “Celebrate Me Home”, with Josh mentioning that it was “so humbling to have so many amazing voices on the stage”. Groban then said, “It’s a very exciting thing when you find a voice that is exciting” before being joined by the other opener of the night, Eleri Ward. She joined Josh Groban for Sondheim tune “Not While I’m Around”, which Groban mentioned “is the only song from Sweeney Todd that’s not about murdering or eating people”. Ward’s incredible tone was a lovely complement to Groban’s voice and their harmonies together were marvelous. 

Tariqh Akoni delivered a wonderful flamenco guitar-style solo on “Aléjate”, with fans singing along, which is the Spanish version of Celine Dion’s “Just Walk Away”. The choir returned for “The Fullest” (which features Kirk Franklin on the recording), an inspirational track, which Groban introduced as “capturing the silver lining after all the trauma of the past couple years”. Bassist Andre Manga had some standout moments on this one. 

Groban introduced his band and mentioned that Akoni had been by his side for about every show for the last 20 years. The fluttering violins made it hard to hold back emotion during Josh Groban’s uplifting “You Raise Me Up”, coupled beautifully with a delicate and timeless solo violin. For his encore, Groban performed the popular Man of La Mancha showstopper “The Impossible Dream”, a completely epic and powerful finale to cap off a superb evening of music and harmony.

Words by Michael Menachem
Images by Alex Kluft