In Hershey performance, Josh Groban reminds us why so many love him
Josh Groban, the multi-talented singer and actor who's taken turns on stage and on screen, returned to Hershey on Friday, June 21, for a concert at the Giant Center, and the performance was a testament to his enduring popularity.
The show had a bit of everything fans love about Groban: big operatic vocals, dorky-theater-kid humor and utter sincerity.
He opened his set with "Bigger Than Us," an original song from his latest album, "Bridges," about feeling powerless to change a hopeless situation, followed by a throwback to his 2006 album, "Awake," with "You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)."
With the crowd warmed up, Groban moved into playful banter with fans seated near the stage.
Despite having an orchestral ensemble, a small choir and a five-piece band on stage, the performance felt more like a visit from an old friend telling stories and catching up than an arena show.
He introduced nearly every song, explaining the personal meaning and why he chose to perform or record it.
Sharing: Before singing "River," another track from "Bridges," Groban talked about a period in which he struggled with depression and anxiety, which he called silent killers.
"The thing about something like depression is it makes you feel like there's nothing outside that door," he said. "There really isn't any reason to share because you'd be a burden or nobody cares or you're just hopeless."
He said Americans need to have a deeper conversation about mental health and encourage those struggling to take the first step to ask for help.
"You will be so surprised at how many people are there to take your hand and to tell you how important you are on this planet Earth and how loved you are on this planet Earth," he said.
Original songs: Groban either wrote or co-wrote nine of the tracks on his latest album, and he included a handful of these in Friday's concert.
His original writing hasn't quite found its footing and tends to produce vague lyrics with universal appeal but little staying power and forgettable melodies.
One exception is "Won't Look Back," a simple and earnest love song about devotion and commitment through life's troubles.
The singer's greatest strength is in his interpretation of others' writing, and it's doubtful he'd suffer any loss of popularity if he did this exclusively for the rest of his life.
At the piano: About halfway through the show, Groban left the stage and was out of sight for several minutes while his percussionists took the spotlight.
Five minutes later, he emerged at the back of the house to cheers from the crowd and climbed a platform to a baby grand piano, where he sat down and jumped into a cover of Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman," which Groban recorded for "Bridges."
He stayed at the platform for several songs, and there were plenty of theater tunes mixed in, including "Old Devil Moon" from "Finian's Rainbow," which featured Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Chris Botti.
Botti and his band are opening for Groban on the Bridges Tour, and fans got to see two world-class performances for the price of one.
When Groban was introducing "Bring Him Home," from "Les Miserables," he said he almost didn't include it on "Stages," his 2015 album of songs from musical theater, because it was so powerful.
The song is about a prayer for God to spare the life of a young revolutionary fighter.
Groban mentioned all of the men and women serving overseas in the military and all those who won't come home because of their sacrifice.
There were a handful of songs in Spanish and Italian, which have been a hallmark of Groban's career from the beginning.
Finale, then more: He waited until the end of the night to bring out the full choir for "You Raise Me Up," the song that catapulted him to international fame in 2003.
This was officially the last song of the night, but the few people who skirted out of the arena immediately afterward in order to beat traffic missed out on a 20-minute encore in which Groban told the story of how he ended up having a guest role in two episodes of the Fox television show "Ally McBeal" in 2001.
He rounded up with "To Where You Are," from his debut album and also one of the songs featured in the TV show.
To end the evening, Groban returned to the piano and was joined by the choir for a cover of Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
He said America is increasingly divided, with fear and "otherism" promoted on every news channel and pushing us away from on another, and that songs such as Simon's are what we need in society right now.
"When you're down and out, when you're on the street, when evening falls so hard, I will comfort you," he sang. "I'll take your part when darkness comes and pain is all around. Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down."
Tour: Groban's tour across the U.S. and Canada will continue through the end of the summer. He will perform July 7 at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia, and July 14 at Borgata Event Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. For more tour dates, go to www.joshgroban.com/tour.