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Review: Josh Groban, Judith Hill @ Prudential Center 10.30.13

Josh Groban

Actor. Singer. Record Producer. Josh Groban is a man of many talents and easily regarded as one of the best vocalists of our time. The multi-platinum singer burst onto the music scene in 2001 with his self-titled debut album and has been praised by everyone from Ellen DeGeneres to President Obama. With the release of his latest album All That Echoes, which debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, Groban announced the In The Round tour. This venture is something very unique for an arena setting. A huge oval stage sat in the middle of the Prudential Center giving off a stadium sized aura. No matter where you sat that evening, you had a fantastic view of everything going down.

Opening act Judith Hill is someone poised to become the next big star. The L.A. singer, who recently was a contestant on the NBC competition The Voice, took to the piano and opened her set with a medley of covers: "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone, "I'll Be There" by The Jackson 5 and "You've Got A Friend" by Carole King. Judith's vocal abilities shone brighter than the spotlight situated upon her. Judith didn't spend the whole time seating behind her piano; she took a nice stroll around the stage and even performed dance moves with her bandmates. Performing singles "Beautiful Life" and "Inspiration", which featured a reprise of "Beautiful Life", Judith exhibited superstar qualities that will certainly expand as she advances further into her rosy career.

While Josh Groban received a huge reaction from the crowd during his arrival, his bandmates easily won entrance of the night. Bassist Andre Manga, violinist Christian Habel, guitarist Tariqh Akoni and trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom each parked themselves at separate sections of the crowd, blasting away with their instruments before amalgamating at the stage for the opening song "Brave", the first track from Groban's latest album. The stage setup was a little different than Judith's. While her band mostly held their own at the top of the stage, Groban's team of musicians were divided into two pit sections: the orchestra and the live band featuring Manga and Akoni along with drummer Dave DiCenso and keyboardist Ruslan Sirota. To truly add some pizzazz to the tune, four members of the Boston-based choir East Coast Inspirational Singers aided Groban with their harmonious vocals.

While Groban's powerhouse vocals were the main attraction that night, his humor made for some funny moments. Whether he was impersonating Stewie Griffin, randomly breaking into Justin Bieber's hit single "Baby" or simply acknowledging the amount of cat calls that night ("You treat me like meat, and I like it very much"), the baritone vocalist knew how to entertain. There was also a Q&A session where fans asked Groban some completely random questions. When asked what his alter ego would be, Groban replied, "Grobocop" and proceeded to imitate the 1980's action hero with robotic movements.

Depending on where you were seated, the merger of orchestra and live band was either plausible or incoherent at times. Luckily for those wanting to fully hear the orchestra's rich sounds, the live band quietly disappeared for a moment during the songs "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" and "Sincera", a track which had DiCenso softly banging on the snares.

Even though the spotlight was on Groban that night, both figuratively and literally, the vocalist didn't pass up any opportunity to let his fellow musicians get their chance to shine. "Un Alma Mas" featured Rosenboom proudly taking over the stage with his superb trumpet bursts while Habel led a rocking band jam which featured a violin cover of Aerosmith's "Dream On". Groban even joined the jam session with some pounding on a standing drum kit.

Vocalist Judith Hill also made a couple of appearances during Groban's set. The singer lent her voice for the tracks "Remember When It Rained" and "The Prayer", a performance that was easily the highlight of the evening with teary eyes in the crowd agreeing wholeheartedly. The entire 16-piece choir East Coast Inspirational Singers returned to the stage for Groban's cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)". The choir brought a titan-like thickness to the track along with Groban's mellifluous vocals.

24 hours before Groban took the stage at the Prudential Center, New Jersey was somberly and optimistically reminiscing about Hurricane Sandy. The storm hit the area one year ago this week and there's still plenty of people trying to recover from that disaster along with the more recent fire at Seaside Heights. Groban dedicated the final track "You Raise Me Up" to the state as an inspirational message. Many in the crowd stood up while others swayed back and forth to show their solidarity to the song. While things may seem troubling and rough at times, it's the power of music that can strengthen and unite people.