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Review: Josh Groban salutes teachers and skips most of his own catalog at Florida Orchestra gala in St. Pete | Music News | Tampa

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Photo by Josh Bradley

Josh Groban performs at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Florida on February 5, 2022.

After 20 years, Josh Groban is still struggling to tell the difference between Tampa and St. Petersburg. He had to ask the sold-out Mahaffey Theater crowd on Saturday night whether they were from Tampa or St. Pete, and in terms of applause level, St. Pete had the most people in the house. “They lead,” he joked.

The perennially sexy 40-year-old crooner has performed limited shows in a COVID-infested world (he canceled his 2020 shows in Florida, originally scheduled for the week when COVID-19 shut everything down), but knows he can’t leave all the tours and relevance to her buddy, Michael Bublé forever. Last week, Groban announced a summer tour of the United States to promote his lockdown masterpiece, Harmonyreleased in late 2020. But before he returned to playing arenas, Groban had a steamy, raunchy mess from the United States to check out.

And how do you make a big comeback to good old Tampa Bay? Through a gala performance, of course.

Every year, St. Petersburg’s Mahaffey Theater hosts a gala event featuring the Florida Orchestra accompanying a musician who normally deserves more than an intimate setting. Tickets usually sell like crazy, but every penny donated goes to fund TFO’s educational and arts programs. Groban – a well-known proponent of charity work for the arts – was the selected headliner this year, and while seeing Sting with an orchestra was a dream come true, Groban’s music resonated in a way you won’t hear at Madison Square Garden or Amalie Arena.

A little after 7 p.m., a few opening remarks from several key people at the Mahaffey – including Mr. Mark Mahaffey himself – were made, and Groban (wearing an all-black, button-up blazer and dress pants) walked out. from the right of the stage, just to maestro Michael Francis. He would grab the mic and slowly but powerfully launch into his 2015 cover of “Pure Imagination,” followed by his 2018 original, “Granted.” The latter saw Josh sit down in front of a grand piano and dedicate the song to the teachers and musicians who continually keep us on our feet.

“It’s so important that we keep arts education alive right now, especially,” he said. “Art, as it always does, continued to survive and thrive through difficult times.”

Much of the survival of the arts is due to charitable efforts like Groban’s Find Your Light Foundation, an organization that, like many, ensures that children receive a good art education. Other than that, and when Groban solemnly remembered Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim (“Children Will Listen”, “Not While I’m Around”), he was otherwise cheerful during his in-between-song banter.

“We’re definitely going to have a pint after that.”

“Everybody wants to sing ‘The Duel’ [from Les Misérables] with me?”

“Anyone here on an expensive-as-hell date? The six of you are on a date? Oh, perv!”

But perhaps the pinnacle of his snark was when he somewhat subtly introduced his seldom-performed version of Peter Gabriel’s cover of The Magnetic Fields’ “The Book Of Love,” and discovered Jen and Rob, an engaged couple in the crowd. Groban gave them permission to turn on their cell phones and film it “dedicating” the song to them, that way Jen and Rob could play it on their wedding day. In the end, it took about five minutes before Groban revealed which Peter Gabriel song he would do. Not that anyone was expecting “Solsbury Hill” or anything, but let’s just say I’m going to be outraged if his next album doesn’t include the cut he performed. It was just too perfect to be excluded from anything else.

Click to enlarge Josh Groban performs at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Florida on February 5, 2022. - PHOTO BY JOSH BRADLEY

Photo by Josh Bradley

Josh Groban performs at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Florida on February 5, 2022.

Speaking of dedicating songs to people, one of Groban’s all-time favorite artists is Neil Diamond, who performed at a Hollywood Bowl show that had a crowd featuring Groban and the legendary producer. Rick Rubin. “There is poetry in his lyrics,” he shared.

In 2009, when Diamond was named MusiCares Person Of The Year, Groban performed “Play Me” during Diamond’s tribute performance, and since Neil liked what he heard, Groban decided to keep the song in the mix. regular rotation of the setlist. He also hailed Sting (“Shape Of My Heart”) and Robbie Williams (“Angels”), who sent Groban roses when his version was first released. “Now I’m straight as an arrow,” Groban remarked. “But when he sent this to me, I said ‘I would do it with him’.”

Although this event is primarily based on the Florida Orchestra, the musicality brought by Josh Groban and his touring band just added to the truly historic gala that turned out to be. On “Alejate,” one of the first Spanish covers of Celine Dion’s “Just Walk Away,” a long Spanish guitar solo from Groban’s music director Tariqh Akoni opened the song, and Mark Stephens tickled the ivories on the Groban’s penultimate song, the heartbreaking “Bring Him”. Home”, originally from Wretched, which cemented one of the best performances of the song I’ve ever seen. Maybe even better than Hugh Jackman’s.

Click to enlarge Josh Groban performs at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Florida on February 5, 2022. - PHOTO BY JOSH BRADLEY

Photo by Josh Bradley

Josh Groban performs at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Florida on February 5, 2022.

Due to an 8:30 p.m. curfew, Groban was unable to continue any longer and concluded the gala evening with another Broadway cut, “The Impossible Dream”, by Man from La Mancha. Okay so, in 90 minutes, he pretty much put aside his original works (aside from the early addition of “February Song”), and stuck to the covers he redid. But even with a setlist full of covers, he’s definitely not a has-been. There are no cheesy, glitzy synthesizers thrown into classic songs, and no vibes of pathetic showmanship skills are present when Josh Groban is.