There’s that phrase about not meeting your heroes for fear that they’ll disappoint you. That’s the sort of feeling I have when I go to see my favourite singers or bands, because I don’t want them to disappoint me. Seeing Josh Groban in concert has always been on my bucket list of live performances, and one that I got to tick off last night at Manchester Arena.
Truth be told, I didn’t know what to expect because I’d never been to a show like this before. Most gigs I go to have a stage full of guitars and drums with people getting sweaty, not a classically trained baritone who looks, in the nicest possible way, like a bit of a geek. Manchester Arena was all seated, and that’s unusual for the shows I go to.
Support last night was provided by Imogen Heap. I understand that she was a last minute call, and while I appreciated the rawness of a performance that seemed particularly unplanned, choosing her own setlist on the fly and still forgetting how to play one song and the lyrics of another in a 30 minute set was a little bit strange for someone of her calibre.
Josh Groban entered the stage and opened his set with Bigger Than Us off latest album Bridges, backed by 14 piece orchestra, pianist and the sort of band I’d be expecting to see on stage at the shows I normally go to. There began a journey through a number of albums and covers, taking in Play Me by Neil Diamond, Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and a duet of All I Ask Of You from Phantom Of The Opera with Louise Dearman who also sang to The Christmas Song.
Not only did we have English language songs, but were also treated to Oceano, Alla Luce del Sole and some amazing classical guitar alongside Musica del Corazon. Throughout all, Josh Groban’s voice was immaculate. Calling it effortless is doing a disservice, but there was never any chance that all songs wouldn’t be delivered perfectly, both in terms of note and sentiment.
The quality of voice was most pronounced for me when Josh left the stage and came half way up the bottom tier of the Arena to sing Lullaby. Somehow, not being front and centre only showcased the power of his voice more, while simultaneously moving him from superstar to one of us mere mortals.
It was the sentiment of the show that really struck me. The set contained The River, a song about fighting depressing and anxiety, Awake about not savouring every moment that life has to offer and finished pre-encore with You Raise Me Up. It was a set of such diversity, carried by the same voice lending itself with ease to wherever it needed to go, that could make you want to dance, laugh and cry in a way that I didn’t think possible, or certainly didn’t expect from the show I thought I was going to see. I expected immaculate; I didn’t expect all the feels.
I usually look for a word to try to some up such a performance. The only one I could find for this was “special”.
The encore consisted of To Where You Are and a cover of Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. Presenting the final song, Josh noted that there’s a lot happening in the world that highlights difference and separation, but not so much about bringing people together with what we have in common.
Not only is there that phrase noting the possibility of your heroes not living up to expectations, but there’s also the one about not doing something because you’re scared of the downside rather than excited about the possibilities, the chance to get more than you thought possible from coming together. At no stage was this demonstrated better than in Bridge Over Troubled Water.
As he sat by his piano, I thought it would be easy to finish the night with a solo performance of man and his instrument, stripped back, tinted with sadness of what we’ve become. Instead, the song was delivered by the full orchestra, the full band and a choir. It became a celebration of what we could become, if only we could escape from the fear of coming together.