Groban's show a miss after a long string of hits

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Josh Groban returned to the Consol Energy Center Saturday night, touring his “All That Echoes” release with a new stage, performing in the round, aimed at providing more intimacy to the concert-goer. However, he ultimately delivered a show so musically over-produced (with lots and lots of echoes) it came across as soulless and predictable.

Let's get this straight: Josh Groban sang beautifully. He has a magnificent voice. It has matured and grown into a rich, beautiful instrument. The man sings a grueling tour and, from all accounts, manages to keep at a vocal peak that is just astounding. No tricks there. No live autotune. Just good, old-fashioned hard work and technique. Perfect.

So, it is beyond wonder why the artificial wall of sound behind him has grown to epic proportions. Maybe the powers-that-be behind Mr. Groban were trying to reinforce the “Echoes” theme of the CD. Maybe it is the thing to do. Maybe it was an off-night. But, every musical crescendo shook as if God himself were going to make an appearance on the high notes.

The band was large. Drummers, percussion, keyboards, strings and on and on. But you could not hear any real music. Every sound produced by these talented musicians was run through electronic processors; it all just sounded like a big synthesizer program, lacking clarity and definition. I’m afraid it was all perfectly orchestrated to reach that effect.

What a shame.

Lest a few quiet moments when the acoustic guitar or a wailing trumpet stood solo, it all just became hopelessly lost as the night wore on. Songs that should had been quiet, pulling the listener in to the poignant lyrics (including "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" by Jimmy Webb and even the smash hit "The Prayer" sung with opening performer Judith Hill) all just became one symphony of large, synthesized crescendos and belting lyrics.

Mr. Groban is a classically-trained singer and delivers songs in his repertoire "Alla Luce del Sole," "Sincera" and "Un Alma Mas" with all gravitas they require. Just because he is capable of singing high and above all that production doesn't mean that he should be made to. Would it really harm the show to have a couple of these songs sung with just a piano and Mr. Groban? He did it on the 2011 tour, creating some richly memorable moments.

The biggest faux pas of night came at the end when the East Coast Inspiration Singers came on stage to sing “I Believe.” (It was hard to believe that 16 singers were kept in the wings all night.) Brought to the stage with accolades from Mr. Groban, you could not hear a single thing they sang.

One thing that could be heard, however, was Mr. Groban's charming tale of good will and philanthropy: He spoke of his fan base and how his foundation began with fans selling his autographs to raise money that has been used to benefit musical nonprofit groups, including the Children's Choir of Pittsburgh, the members of which were his guests at the concert.

Devoted fans flock to Josh Groban concerts for one thing, to hear him sing. Maybe next time, he will leave the synthesized processors and effects to the overnight pop-singing sensations who need them. Great singers like Josh Groban can hold a concert hall rapt with just his voice and a grand piano.

Rosa Colucci can be reached at rcolucci@post-gazette. com or 412-263-1661. Twitter@PGRosa_Colucci.

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