Josh Groban Preservation Hall Jazz Band & Eleri Ward• July 27, 2022• Vivint Arena
Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe
Utah loves Josh Groban. He could easily do a concert in Utah every year and it would be well attended. In some ways, it feels like a homecoming concert when Groban stops here on his tours. I’m sure that is in part, due to him recording his Awake concert film right here in Salt Lake City at the very same venue where we saw him on July 27, 2022. To my knowledge, he has no ties to this state. It just feels like there is a real connection between Utah and Josh. Groban’s stop on his Harmony Tour was no exception. The lineup was stacked with talent from newcomer Eleri Ward to the really fun Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Josh Groban. The night never lacked for beautiful moments of music.
The show began with Eleri Ward. She’s a newcomer to the music scene. So new that she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page yet. Based on what I saw, Ward will be around for a long time. She has a pure crystal clear voice that I found intoxicating. She drew me in immediately and I was not the only one. It appeared that most people were in their seats by the time Eleri took the stage. Vivint Arena was silent. Everyone was listening to her. She was the first opener of the night. A silent arena is not always the case for a first opener. But people were so drawn to the music.
Eleri Ward was alone on stage with just a guitar. She recorded her album A Perfect Little Death in her closet during the pandemic. The album consists of reimagined folk arrangements of songs penned by the great Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim. I immediately added this album to my streaming service and the entire LP is excellent from top to bottom.
Some of my favorites from her set were, “Send in the Clowns” and an Into the Woods medley which included “Children Will Listen”. A song I really love. The audience gave her loud ovations and I couldn’t help but be happy for her. I’d imagine the crowds on this tour will be the largest Eleri has ever played. I feel fortunate to have seen her this early on because I do believe she’ll be headlining her own shows sooner than later. She was gracious in her response to the audience. The size of the moment and opportunity was not lost on her. As she left the stage she told us to follow our bliss. “You have no idea where it can take you!”
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Next up was Preservation Hall Jazz Band. This was quite the departure from Eleri. I love the variety Josh Groban brought with him on this tour. If you played me 30 seconds of Preservation Hall Jazz Band and asked me where I thought this band was based, I would immediately say New Orleans. Their sound is pure French Quarter, New Orleans. I loved it. It seemed the crowd loved it. The audience met the liveliness of the music with their applause and energy. The band appeared to be having a great time. For their set, I was invited to the front of the stage to take photos. I was able to get a good look at their faces. They were all smiles. They must have a blast playing this music together.
There was a moment during the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s set where I turned around and faced the audience. My intent was to take some pictures of the crowd. But I just stood there mesmerized by the sea of faces. I thought about how amazing it must have been for this band to see all of those faces smiling back at them. As far as I could see, people were glowing with grins on their faces. The music of Preservation Hall Jazz band produced those smiles. They were a really fun band and set such a fun tone for the rest of the evening.
Josh Groban took the stage to an enormous applause. When I think of a Josh Groban concert, in my mind I imagine it being a more formal affair. I’m not sure why I think that. Maybe just the nature of the music he performs, or the mastery he performs his craft. But it really is a fun generally casual show. He’s really funny. And he’s an engaging storyteller. I guess this style of music feels like it calls for a certain level of sophistication. It really doesn’t. The songs can be the songs and be at that certain level, and the stories and humor can bring a good mix to the evening.
The set opened just as Groban’s Harmony album opens with the song “The World We Knew”. It’s amazing to sit there and hear this voice. He sounds just like the album. How he does that night in and night out blows me away. He truly has an instrument that he has mastered. He covered what I think is a very underrated song, Robbie Williams’ “Angels”. Groban’s arrangement and performance transformed into a song that sounded like a Josh Groban original. He shared that he was nervous to know if Robbie Williams liked it or not. He told us that he received a confirmation from Williams himself. That must have felt good to get that endorsement.
Josh invited his guest, violinist, Lucia Micarelli, to the stage. She performed these incredible pieces of music. Wow, what a talent. The audience just sat there totally in awe of what she was doing. Josh shared that Micarelli was expecting a baby soon and joked that if famous producer David Foster was there, he’d be trying to sign the baby right now. Groban shared that he had no idea Micarelli could sing. He saw her singing on some of her Instagram posts. He asked if she would sing with him on this tour. They sang a duet of the incredible Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now”.
I know this song was already on the setlist. But it felt that much more impactful because Joni had just performed this song herself for the first time in years at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. Josh and Lucia’s voices blended together so well and they gave us a remarkable performance of a truly great song.
Groban also invited Eleri Ward back to the stage and performed a duet of the Stephen Sondheim classic, “Not While I’m Around”. He mentioned that they had both sung the song individually so it made sense for them to do it together. I can see Groban and Ward recording a song together in the future. They sounded great together. I have to say, Eleri Ward just about stole the show. She was so good in her set and in this duet. If anything she has most certainly made her mark on this tour.
A funny moment during that concert happened when Josh asked if anyone was engaged in the audience. A man in the front row raised his hand. Groban asked him if the person next to him was his fiancé. The man shared that his fiancé wasn’t there. This drew a laugh from the audience and from Groban. He was on the front row at a Josh Groban concert without the woman he was going to marry. Josh Groban shared that the next song would make for a great wedding song and that he’d come to sing it at it. Then instantly questioning what he was even saying. He then performed “Book of Love”. Which would definitely make for a great wedding song.
The night ended with two great songs. “You Raise Me Up” was an unsurprising crowd pleaser. He sounded perfect and the audience rose to their feet mid song. Not even a standing ovation. They literally could not stay in their chairs. They were that inspired. Groban shared that he heard the song on the radio when he was in Ireland years ago. He knew he loved the song but didn’t think more of it. Then years later the song returned to him to record and he remembered how much he loved it. I think we’re all happy it did. It’s his biggest hit, and a song that will stand the test of time.
Groban returned to the stage to perform “The Impossible Dream” for his encore. This song is a personal favorite of mine. It was an excellent choice for a closer. I challenge anyone to go to a Josh Groban concert and not leave impressed. He was hitting those high notes at the end of the show with so much control and purpose. He did it all night. Josh Groban always has a home in Utah. He has such a great fanbase here. As I’m sure he does all over. But there does seem to be something special between Josh Groban and Salt Lake City.