The multiplatinum singer made a grand entrance on a recent Thursday at the Santa Barbara Bowl, descending a staircase worthy of a Fred Astaire film. The riser, set up to accommodate the mini-orchestra (strings and horns) traveling with Groban, made a nice visual statement of the man’s show, which was part storytelling, part Broadway music, and part pops concert.
The singer’s warm baritone rang brightly through the outdoor venue, which Groban described as “a damn near a perfect [place] to make music and listen to music [in].” After opening with numbers “Bigger Than Us” from Bridges and “You Are Loved (Don’t Give Up),” from Awake, Groban, a delightful chatterbox, offered bon mots, quips, a history behind the songs he’d chosen for the evening, and his career experiences. “It was 20 years ago,” he informed the audience, that he was last on the Bowl stage while on tour with Sarah Brightman. The then-18-year-old came out each show and sang one song; now he is a multi-platinum, award-winning recording star.
Between stories, Groban sang tunes from his catalog, including his most recent album, Bridges. The 2019 record is a mix of original songs and a handful of covers, including Paul Simon’s “Bridge over Troubled Water,” which he performed with aplomb. Other highlights were a stirring rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Play Me,” a sublime “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables, and the rousing “You Raise Me Up,” which earned a Grammy nod in 2004 and put Groban at number one on the 2004 Billboard Adult Contemporary charts.
Groban is an engaging performer. He made the Bowl feel intimate with his banter and expansive with his sound. Defying categorization, the artist is a curious mixture of raconteur, classical/operatic pop star, and stage musical showman. It’s an unusual amalgamation but one that Groban beautifully embodies, as was evident in the faces of his fans who left the show elated.