LIVE REVIEW: Josh Groban in Portland, ME (06.24.19)
It was a night of pure imagination and inspiration as Josh Groban took the Cross Insurance Arena stage in Portland, ME. It was Groban’s first time appearing in Maine in 15 years. The last time he played Portland was on a much smaller stage at Merrill Auditorium, and he was sorely missed as this time around, the 6,000 capacity arena seats were, for the most part, filled up.
Groban emerged in a “pre-boiled lobster” colored suit (worn specifically for Mainers) amongst a full orchestra and full rock band, many of whom have been on numerous of his tours and formed a cohesive bond. From the start, Groban sang of hope and love in “Bigger Than Us” and “You Are Loved (Don’t Give Up)” which filled the room with warmth and light projecting from the enormous video screen behind.
In a sort of “songs and stories” format, Groban told tales behind the inspiration for songs and little tidbits about his life and connection to different people and places. As a self-proclaimed introvert and awkward human being, Groban is quite funny and personable, balancing the heaviness of his music with the lightheartedness of his jokes. Like a true showman, he made sure to canvas the entire stage and interact with the audience through his stories.
One of those stories was about his parents’ 50th anniversary, and how it was the inspiration behind his song “Won’t Look Back.” In a touching moment, he asked if anyone in the audience was celebrating such a high numbered anniversary, and a darling older man in the front row proclaimed it was him and his wife’s 54th.
For his song “Granted,” he paid tribute to his roots by showcasing a music video of Los Angeles County High School for the Arts students performing while a choir sang behind him. Throughout the show, he touched back on his time at LACHSA and mentioned all of the musicals and theatre productions he was a part of and how those experiences helped him get to the point he is now.
That segued into his seventh album, Stages opener, the magical “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka. Bright lights and beautiful strings shone through as Groban took a step back to the top of the orchestra steps.
Then, the true excitement started, as “Oceano” led into “The Wandering Kind” and brought a funky drum solo battle to transport the audience to “Groban Island” – a B stage at the back of the arena just in front of the soundboard. Groban emerged on piano, crooning the crowd favorite Billy Joel cover “She’s Always A Woman.”
Welcoming opener and longtime collaborator/friend Chris Botti back to the stage, the pair executed perfect duets on “Old Devil Moon” and “She.” Reaching back to the theatre days, Groban covered “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables before the raucous “Musica Del Corazon.” Just as we were transported to Groban Island by drums, we were returned to the mainland with another stirring drum face off and guitar solo in a transition that was a genius for a mid-set shift.
Back on the main stage, Groban told how Bridges is a deeply personal album and said that “River” is probably the most stand out song for him because he remembers where he was when he wrote it and dealing with the lows and highs of life. With an advocacy for mental health awareness and plea to reach out if you need help, the message of the song was reinforced by the music video in the background.
Once again comically balancing light and dark, Groban returned to the piano telling how he learned to play and broke out into “sing-along” “My Ding-a-Ling,” before seriously playing “February Song.”
The moment everyone was waiting for, and the song that put him on the map, (which came from hearing it in a drunken cab ride back to the hotel in Ireland) “You Raise Me Up” came next. For this, Groban welcomed members of the Portland Choral Singers to the stage to provide harmony.
While Groban left the stage, everyone else stayed, proving an encore was imminent. Upon his return, he told of how his appearance on Ally McBeal came about before singing the show featured “To Where You Are.”
Ending just the way it started, Groban left his final message of hope with the Simon & Garfunkel classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Even the most cynical person will feel slight warmth and their heart growing a few sizes at a Josh Groban concert, and for that reason, everyone should take a break out of their hectic and stressful life and see him at least once.