Twelve years ago, Josh Groban held his first concert in Manila. If I recall correctly, it was a exclusive event by one local telco giant for its customers, so it was not easy to purchase tickets. He was on his third album "Awake" by that time, and already had several adult contemporary hits to his name. To be completely honest, most of the Groban songs we love had been his early hits released before this fist Manila concert, and thus were the same songs we looked forward to the most in this long-overdue return engagement.
By 8 pm there was a local front act who warmed up the crowd in the person of balladeer Christian Bautista. With his light soaring tenor, Bautista rendered his signature international hit "Something in the Way You Look at Me" and his own slowed-down version of the Eraserheads' "Ligaya." His final number was a medley of his favorite OPM songs originally by Martin Nievera, Gary Valenciano, Ogie Alcasid, APO Hiking Society, Raymond Lauchengco and Rico J. Puno, among several others.
To the relief of the mostly middle age or senior citizen audience, the concert proper began at around 8:45 pm. Josh Groban, sporting his beard and rich high baritone, came out to sing "Bigger Than Us," a track from his latest 2018 album "Bridges." He immediately followed this up with his first release from the "Awake" album, the elegant anthem "You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)." Aside from his band, he had the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra behind him to accompany him.
Groban was quite informal, joking and chatty in his spiels as he told stories behind his songs. Even if I had not heard his new songs before from "Bridges" before, they all carry the familiar Groban warmth. When he introduced "Granted," he shared his experience when he was 13 when a teacher pushed him to perform publicly for the first time. For "River," he talked about reaching out to help people suffering from depression. "Musica del Corazon" was an upbeat Latin-infused guitar and percussion number which brought out a new facet in Groban's performance.
He shared how his career went into new dimensions after the release of his 2015 album of Broadway show covers -- "Stages." It led to his cherished dream of headlining a show on Broadway in 2016, when he played Pierre Bezukhov in Dave Malloy's "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812," a performance which earned him a nomination for Best Actor in a Musical in the 2017 Tony Award. He sang two songs from "Stages," "Pure Imagination" (which was from the film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," not a musical) and "Bring Him Home" (from "Les Miserables").
Groban sat the piano himself at one point and began an impassioned solo at the keys, which later segued into the familiar strains of Michael Jackson's "She's Out of My Life." After singing this beautiful song, he shared that this song was an exclusive for his Manila stop since it was only popular in the Philippines, to the delight of the audience. He said that it was just an ignored B-side in the US, so he never really sang it in concerts.
The unique highlight of this Manila concert were the guest appearances of Filipino singers to sing duets with Groban. The first one was unexpected. Front act artist Christian Bautista was called back on stage to sing Andrea Bocelli's parts in "We Will Meet Once Again," also from "Bridges." Bautista confessed that he was a big fan and was singing all of Groban's hits during his singing contest days. Both 37 this year, Groban and Bautista acted like long-time buddies onstage.
The second featured guest is none other than Lea Salonga. The concert date February 22 is Salonga's birthday and of course, Groban sang the birthday song for her. She suffered a leg fracture from a skiing accident in Japan earlier this year, so she came out on stage on a wheelchair. Groban sat down beside her when they sang their two duet numbers "All I Ask of You" (from "Phantom of the Opera," which he sang with Kelly Clarkson in the "Stages" album) (MY VIDEO), and "The Prayer" (the song he sang with Celine Dion as a stand-in for Andrea Bocelli in the 1998 Grammy Awards rehearsal, that launched his career). Groban spoke as a fan of Salonga, and rued that he could not reach the notes of "Ms. Saigon" leading man Chris, joking that the word "saxophone" was banned in his contract.
In the homestretch of the concert, he went back to sing his early hits, beginning with "Alla Luce Del Sole" from "Josh Groban" (2001). Then he introduced the next song as a song he randomly heard in a taxi in Ireland, which turned out to be "You Raise Me Up." (MY VIDEO) He sang this beloved inspirational anthem accompanied by the Ateneo Chamber Singers. This was the final song of regular set before he bade the audience goodbye, for the first time. Of course, the audience clamored for more.
With that song, the concert had ended, he still had so many other popular songs which I'm sure many fans missed, like "Broken Vow" or "Evermore" or "You're Still You", but nevertheless, this concert was going to linger long in fans memories long after this night. He promised that it would not take another 12 years for him to come back.