I brought my mom to the Josh Groban show on Friday night. Turns out, Josh Groban had the same idea.
It was a true family affair at the Xcel Energy Center, as Groban's parents and "more cousins than I can shake a stick at" made up some of the 10,000 fans who filled the arena for the singer’s first Twin Cities show in five years.
But the real reason I was there was in the seat next to me. My mother loves Josh Groban, and so I took on the review, despite knowing nothing else about him except that he has a good sense of humor. It was our first show together, a special chance to share my love of live music with my mother.
As soon as the house lights dimmed, my mom leaned over and exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, I am so excited!" That moment alone made my entire night. But the spectacular 100-minute show that followed—and Groban’s messages of love, hope, and perseverance—truly surprised me.
With his bushy beard, olive-colored suede jacket, and jeans, Groban looked more like an English lit professor than an international pop superstar. But teachers don't have voices like that. Groban's incredible vocal range was front and center throughout the performance, augmented by a talented backing band and local support from the Twin Cities Orchestra and VocalEssence choir.
Throughout the show, my mother gave me a nod, smile, or cry of recognition to let me know that she was excited to hear a particular song that she loved. And the show featured plenty of those moments where my mom wordlessly conveyed just how much the songs — and Groban's rich vocals — moved her.
"You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)" was a powerful message of encouragement, while "Won't Look Back" was inspired by Groban’s parents, who have been married for 50 years. "Granted" was dedicated to his art teachers at L.A. School for the Arts, and videos of instructors were displayed on a big screen. During a cover of "Pure Imagination," Groban came across like a bearded Californian Willy Wonka who chose pop stardom over a chocolate factory.
Groban made his way to a small stage at the back of the arena for a mini-set of four stripped-down versions of covers and tender original numbers. "That old front row really hates this new front row," Groban joked. "But don't worry, I'll be back up there soon. I know how much you paid for those seats." After a loungey take on Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman," complete with accordion accompaniment that gave it the feel of an Italian barroom in the Bronx, Groban brought out opener Idina Menzel (more on her set below) for a couple lovely duets. Their voices meshed well on "Lullaby" and an emotional "Falling Slowly" from the musical Once, with the pair replicating Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's stirring original version. A touching take on "Bring Me Home" elicited a gasp of approval from my mom; the Les Misérables hit then hushed the entire arena.
Returning to the main stage, Groban focused on his world music influences, singing in Spanish over the Latin-flavored rhythms of "Musica del Corazon," and "Alla Luce del Sole" highlighted by his fluent Italian vocals. Groban took a moment to speak openly about depression, anxiety, and addiction, calling them silent killers. He wrote "River" as a "conduit of understanding" to those who need to know that they aren't facing their fears or their fight alone. It was as genuine and heartfelt of a moment at an arena show that I've experienced, and only added to my growing admiration of Groban.
And that was before a show-stopping version of "You Raise Me Up"—my mom exclaimed, "I might lose it," as the first notes of the song rang out. The rendition simply floored me, and left my mom shaking with emotion. I had never heard that song before, and wasn't prepared for its passion, with VocalEssence helping to raise the song's uplifting message to the heavens.
Groban began the encore by saying he’d talked to some fans at his meet-and-greet who’ve been following his career since he appeared on Ally McBeal. So he deviated from his standard setlist. "We don't play this that often, but tonight it feels right. This is for Ally," he said, introducing "To Where You Are," which set the stage for the night's triumphant closing number.
"There is so much anger and divisiveness in the world today," Groban said, his voice quivering. "I sing this thinking of Pittsburgh and all those who have been affected by this culture of anger and division." A stunning cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" soothed our hearts, and as I hugged my weeping mother, I said a simple prayer for this world, though I don't consider myself a religious person. Transcendent moments like that don't typically happen to me at indie-rock shows. But then again, I've never taken my mom to an indie-rock show. At least not yet.
A note on the opener: Idina Menzel’s stunning hour-long opening set perfectly prepared us for Groban. In a glittering jumpsuit that she called "my disco ball outfit," Menzel worked her way through monumental touchstones in her distinguished career, with songs from Rent ("my first professional job other than singing at weddings and bar mitzvahs—it changed my life"), Wicked, Frozen, and even Modern English ("Melt With You"). During a celebratory crowd singalong of "Let It Go," I couldn't help but think of how much that song means to young kids everywhere. Over the past two decades, Menzel has given voice to some truly memorable characters from Broadway to the big screen, and her vocal gifts and buoyant personality were on full display. My mom's take: "Wow, she was good. That in itself was worth it, to say nothing of Josh Groban."
A note on Josh Groban's family tree: Groban proudly stated that his great-great-grandmother came here from Norway at the age of 11. So we can basically claim him as an honorary Minnesotan, right? I’m pretty sure that's how it works.
Bigger Than Us
You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)
Won't Look Back
Small stage set
She's Always a Woman
Lullaby (with Idina Menzel)
Falling Slowly (with Idina Menzel)
Bring Him Home
Musica del Corazon
Alla Luce del Sole
You Raise Me Up
To Where You Are
Bridge Over Troubled Water