By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter
Josh Groban Bridges Tour
SM Mall of Asia
I VAGUELY remember my introduction to Josh Groban — I only recall hearing a deep and operatic male voice as a seven-year-old one evening in the master’s bedroom. Out of curiosity, I approached the front of the old stereo system to see what new album was playing. The artwork on the cover was divided horizontally into 2 frames — at the top was the artist’s name in lowercase letters and below was his photo. I couldn’t imagine that a baby-faced young man would sound like that. I flipped the album to read the track list and kept track as the record played each song.
It was an hour past the scheduled show time on a Friday evening when most of the seats were finally filled at the Mall of Asia Arena. The stage design was simple — upstage was an orchestra, a band, and a space for backup singers. No grand setup was needed that evening, just a majestic voice.
Dressed in a black suit and pale shirt and sporting a beard, American singer-songwriter Josh Groban opened the show with “Bigger Than Us” (2018) from his latest album Bridges. As someone who has frequently watched live performances online and also listened to his albums, I could tell by the power of his voice that it was a live performance (unlike other performers who opt to have their voices recorded then “sing along” when doing world tours). Throughout the show, Mr. Groban wowed the crowd with his powerful vocals.
The second song of the night, “Don’t Give Up (You Are Loved)” from his 2008 album Awake — a personal favorite — got this writer to sing along. It didn’t bother me if my seatmate heard me at all (since the concert’s volume was loud, I don’t think I distrubed anyone).
Before starting his third song, Mr. Groban thanked the crowd for the warm welcome and also apologized for how long it had taken him to return to the Philippines — 12 years. “It’s taken many years of planning to finally come back but it has been one of my dreams and exciting moments for me on this Bridges Tour to finally be back here in Manila. So, first I want to say sorry, and thank you for inviting me back,” he told the crowd.
The 37-year-old baritone continued with “Won’t Look Back” (2018), a song he explained was about the early exciting phase of falling in love, followed by a rendition of “Pure Imagination” (1971) which he recorded for his Stages (2015) album, then a song he wrote as an anthem for the young who have hopes and dreams titled “Granted” (2018).
Mr. Groban welcomed Christian Bautista (who also performed as the show’s opening act) as his first guest of the evening. Their voices blended well on “We Will Meet Once Again” — the song Mr. Groban co-wrote and recorded as a duet with Andrea Bocelli.
The second half of the show began with an impressive piano solo by the singer which led to the first few bars of “She’s Out of My Life” — originally recorded by Michael Jackson in 1979. The singer referred to the number as a Manila exclusive. “I stayed up all night learning that on the piano for you,” he told the crowd, stating that that song made it big in the Philippines compared to the US where “nobody paid attention to it.”
The introduction of the much-awaited special guest — multi-award winning singer and Broadway actress Lea Salonga — had the crowd cheering. Ms. Salonga (who was celebrating her 48th birthday) was brought to the stage on a wheelchair (broke her leg in a skiing accident).
They sang “All I Ask of You” from the Phantom of the Opera and “The Prayer” (1998) romantically, with their voices blending well. Every word was well enunciated. Their talent is, in Filipino, walang kupas (unfading). It would be nice to have them record these songs for an album. It’s Lea Salonga! Need I say more?
Later that evening, Mr. Groban surprised the crowd with “Alla Luce Del Sole” (2001) which was the first track from his debut album, and then the Ateneo Chamber Singers joined him for “You Raise Me Up” (2003) from the album Closer.
When he bade the audience “Good night!” and exited the stage the crowd cheered for more, and the singer obliged with “To Where You Are” (2001) which he noted as a significant song to many fans. As he sang the 16th song of the evening, his voice dynamics remained flawless as he hit the high notes.
He concluded the show with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (1970) together with the Ateneo Chamber Singers.
The house lights went up even before the choir, band, and orchestra members exited the stage. The crowd stood up to leave, reluctantly. Honestly, I felt 10:30 p.m. was too early; the seven-year-old in me wanted the music to keep on playing.
By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter