“Straight to you”, Vienna

There is one person on Earth I saw live several times, am ready to travel abroad for any time, and whom I intend to see live as long as either of us lives. That person is Josh Groban, the singer with an angel in his throat.

My history with him goes back four and a half years. I’ll spare everyone the sentimental details, suffice it to say that he came into my life in a particular moment when I was very vulnerable and depressed. Would he have caught my attention had I been strong and emotionally self-sufficient? These questions don’t matter because, in the end, he did catch my attention. Fully. I had never heard anyone sing like that before. That is still the case today.

In between my moment of stupour and shock back then and today, I saw him live at Hampton Court Palace in 2007, in the lead of the musical “Chess” in 2008, in London last November during the “Before we begin” concert tour and yesterday, in Vienna, which was the opening concert for the “Straight to you” tour. Has there been a change in his style, has he developed as a performer, as a singer? Hell, yes. As the years go by, he is becoming more and more open-minded and daring when it comes to writing, publishing and performing music. He is a giant breathing musical sponge that sucks every amazing musical style in, and uses up bits and pieces that will suit his singing voice. He has often said how he is cursed with a voice that will undeniably blow apart the walls of a bathroom shower, a voice that will not accommodate just any singing style. He is right. David Foster discovered and signed him when he was 17, and for almost a decade Josh struggled with an image that a certain type of audience had grown very much fond of. Which is not bad, of course. But the open-minded fans saw already back in 2003 that this young man will not settle for the classical style. The hell he will, when there are so many, more exciting genres. Such a number of crazy talented musicians he can work with, perform with, co-write with, cover. Shall I type up that list? Well, okay. It’s a good excuse and man, it feels great to re-read it: Aretha Franklin, Herbie Hancock, Imogen Heap, Marius de Vries, Richard Marx, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ben Folds, Deep Forest, John Lennon, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Sarah Mc Lachlan, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Nick Cave, Sting, Chris Botti, etc. In five years’ time the list will have grown by at least thirty new, widely acknowledged names. Josh is predictable like that. We know he will venture into new territories of music, he will try this, try that, embrace more and more there is to it. As for his singing…

Can one really describe anything truthfully, ever? Is there a way to capture a magical moment with words? I have tried, so many times. Especially when it came to Josh’s singing live. I haven’t taken one single photo last night, so my endeavour to paint a reliable picture is an honest one. But how can I do it? There is no way I can do it. How can one truthfully paint a flower, using oil or pencils? One either ends up with a realistic, photo-like painting which is but a pathetic copy of reality, or with something more abstract, more subjective, which carries the characteristics of the beholder’s own personality. Everything one is inspired to create falls short of reality or becomes a personal, intimate metaphysical journey. I wish I were able to re-create the way Josh sings. I wish I were able to tell you all what he sounds like. Thank God and circumstances, many of you have already heard him live, so you actually know what I mean. Would you agree that he sounds like the fountain of eternal youth? Like a group of immortals spreading the joy of life? Like all the best sounds ever created to entice and enchant in this world were hoarded together into one single human voice? There have been a number of so-called scientific articles trying to explain the reasons why Josh Groban’s voice is so amazing. There have been thousands of fans testifying their love and admiration for this voice. Science and faith alike strive to explain how he can enthrall the audiences. It reminds me of a documentary I saw years ago on the Stradivari violins, their history, and their magic explained in scientific facts and spiritual thoughts. We can’t stop ourselves from having this innate need to understand why. Why is Josh so incredible? We don’t know. We all have our different reasons. He has touched our souls in different ways. He inspired and helped us at different points in our lives. We all have a history with him. The one thing in common is this: when we hear his voice in a concert hall or arena, we become oblivious to everything else. Time stops existing, nothing else matters, we listen to that unbelievable voice and marvel at the thoughts it makes us think. His voice moves us in ways we never thought possible. His voice makes us want to move mountains!

He sang “Oceano”. Oh my God, the way he sang that song. The stormy passions in that song finally came to life for me last night. They filled my senses, to the brim. It was like the sea, deep and vibrant in its colours had awakened to mutiny against silence and resignation. He played the drums in the introduction of, during and at the end of “Voce existen em mim”. That song is one of my favourites from “Illuminations” but I swear I will not be able to listen to it ever again. Not the CD version. THE GROUND UNDER MY FEET VIBRATED AND ROCKED AND WAS READY TO ERUPT FROM THE PASSIONATE RHYTHMS OF THAT SONG. It was a ride of chills and goosebumps from beginning to its end. “Alla luce del sole” sounded as perfect as ever, except more so. Tears were flowing from my eyes, I cannot believe he’s still performing this, one of my personal favourites. His baritone filled the hall, there is no way I can compare the originally recorded version to this one. Wow. “Higher window” was as perfect and gentle as always, the high sounds were hit as perfectly as the way a butterfly suddenly soars towards the sky. A favourite of mine from the new album, it never fails to amaze me. He sang (in no correct order): Per te”, “Mi mancherai”, “Play me”, “Changing colours”, “The wandering kind”, “Machine”, “Galileo (Someone like you)”, “To where you are”, “Weeping”, “February song”, the acoustic version of “You are loved”, “Alejate”, “Broken vow”, “You raise me up”, “Bells of New York City”, “Galileo”, “Hidden away”, “Smile”, “Broken vow”. Twenty songs. Was it enough? Never. Did I miss any songs? Painfully. “In her eyes”, “Awake”, “War at home”, “Un dia llegara”, “Love only knows”, “If I walk away”, “Remember when it rained”, “Au jardin des sans-pourquoi”. I am so grateful I saw him live during the “Awake” tour. I wish he sang more songs from the new album. But he sang for two hours and ten minutes and I loved every moment of it. There is no way I could grow tired of watching him on stage, so however much he sang, I would never be satisfied. I am so very grateful fr the opportunity I got… but those who have seen him live know the feeling of always being thirsty for more. He is like sunshine, or air. If he’s not there, he’s viciously missed… fiercely. He leaves a void nothing can fill.

He cracked jokes, he answered questions from the audience. What would he love to turn to gold when he’d touch it? Music. Or people. But more than that, he would love to turn people into beer. What time would he travel back to, who would he meet and what would he sing to them? He would meet Beethoven when he was composing his 9th symphony and he would turn him to beer. He would go back in time to meet Bob Marley and sing raggae style. “Buffalo soldier…” He sounded so frickin’ hilarious. We roared. He invited Anja on stage, the same Anja who was so relentless at the Union Chapel last November. Well, she got her duet. I was happy for her. I sincerely was. She was so nervous that she didn’t hit one single key right, God bless her. And he was so gracious he helped her all the way, God bless him. He invited a couple and a single lady on stage, too. He danced to Beyoncé’s “Single ladies”. We roared. He made them drink wine and sang “Broken vow” to them, after seating them on two inflatable sofas. (The biggest joke of the evening!) Drank a lot of juice and water, he wiped his brow often. He’d just come out of an illness so we were all anxious to see how well he was really. His voice struggled a few times, sometimes he didn’t hit the right key. I so didn’t care! I could not have cared less!!! Perfection only works with a little flaw hidden in there. The show had a few flaws, but they were all compensated by Josh’s presence, the proficiency of the musicians and the overall feel of grand satisfaction of the artists performing on stage with him. There were no sets, just the beautiful pompous elegance of the Wiener Konzerthaus. A prestigious hall that was nonetheless filled with screaming and laughter and feel-good music.

He saw our Hungarian flags rigth in the beginning. He had also been sent one of the flags through Darren before the show. He then spotted more of us sitting further back. After the show three of us went to talk to him and ask him about whether he would come to Hungary. He told all three of us an undeniable “YES”. Not a “we’ll see” or “maybe next time” or “certainly, sooner or later” but a “YES”. One of these three people was my mom, who had started studying English on her own after becoming a fan of his music. He had helped her get through the loss of my father six years ago and then he inspired her to start drawing again and now he had prompted her to learn English and to actually go up to him and tell him to come to Hungary. He understood her, she understood him. I wept like a freak. So many of my friends got to see him from up close, say thank you, get an autograph. Darren had asked us to be polite and organized, that Josh would try to get to all of us. But please, just one item for signing, and no hugs or kisses, he needs to stay germ-free. We obeyed, we were so grateful for the opportunity. He signed everyone’s pictures. I didn’t want an autograph, I only told him “thank you so much for coming” and he looked at me and said, “thank you, it is for you guys that we came”. That was it. It was as simple as that. A few words that encompass everything that lies in the relationship between performer and his audience, the perfect circle of giving and receiving. When I heard he was coming to Budapest I started screaming and jumping up and down on my MBT shoes like a rubber ball, waving at him, out of my head with joy. The other Hungarians did the same around me. Josh noticed us and equivocated our feelings the way he knows best. Goofily. He jumped up and down and waved back and screamed back at us. The next half hour was bawling on my part, and hugging me on my friends’ part. I was so happy I’m almost crying again. After he signed everything, he went on the bus and waved at us and closed the curtain for some privacy. We were waiting for our own bus to take us home to Budapest, so we happily stayed in the proximity of his bus.

I also managed to give my gifts to Darren, who looked inside the bag and finding no bomb, only three of my mother’s drawings inspired by Josh’s songs, a folder with the first part of my novel printed, and a big heart-shaped lollipop, said that he would take it on the bus. I also told him that Erin from Kansas says hi and thanks for the package. I made a sweet girl happy and that just added to my joy.

There was no PCD this time. On the bus, we talked and talked. Some people slept. I had some of my dearest friends close. My mom was sleeping next to me. I had met some amazing new people. I talked to Josh, finally. Face to face, just a few words, but they meant the world. The show was imperfectly perfect, his presence was overwhelming. We sat in the front row, for the first time ever. What a treat! Oh my gosh. I felt like an accomplice in a very, very sweet and delightful crime. Josh walking up and down the stage right in front of my eyes… He is so beautiful it hurts the soul. I wasn’t sure what to pay attention to, his voice, his face, or his whole presence. A good friend of mine told me she saw his indigo-blue aura after he took his jacket off and went on singing in a white T-shirt. What a simple and wonderful confirmation to what we have always known, that he is strongly sensitive and intuitive and empathetic person!

I admit to watching his face for two hours. Non-stop. I hardly ever noticed anything else. I also admit that toward the end of the show, the sight of his chest rising and falling as he breathed in and out was intoxicating. It sent me in a trance and before my eyes, that chest is still rising and falling. His lungs fill with air that travels through his throat and becomes love that he gives freely to everyone. I realize now that his voice is the instrument, but his entire body co-operates to perform this amazing act.

Details escape me, but the most important ones will lie buried safe in my heart forever. This was indeed a night to remember!