On July 27, Josh Groban will bring his Harmony Tour to Vivint Arena, returning to Utah for his first performance since 2018. The tour, which features music from his most recent album, is a culmination of a project that evolved over the course of multiple years, inspiring Groban to record music in ways he likely never anticipated.
In 2019, Groban had gotten a good start on making a type of album that had long been on his to-do list, recording his versions of some of his favorite classic songs from pop and other genres. Then the pandemic hit and the album he was going to call Harmony got shut down.
“I didn’t even know if Harmony would finish being made,” Groban said in an early June interview.
When the decision was made during the quarantine to resume recording this collection of cover songs, Groban discovered that the album needed to change with the unusual times.
“The songs we chose had changed,” he said. “Even though we knew we wanted this album to be mostly covers on this one, what you want to say and the kind of songs you want to sing—it changes as the world changes around you. So different songs started to rise to the top as we were going through this crazy thing together.”
One of the big issues that had to be overcome was how to record during a time when musicians had to be socially distanced and were unable to travel and be in the same studio to record their parts. In this case, Groban was in Los Angeles, his producer, Bernie Herms, was in Nashville and the orchestra that was a key part in the song arrangements was in London. But technology provided a solution with a plug-in called Audiomovers that links together multiple recording locations.
“[It gave us] the ability to connect with each other on a sonic level that is of the highest quality. It’s as if somebody is in the room next to you,” Groban explained. “And where you’re bouncing back and forth your audio files in real-time, it allows you to share the airwaves and to jam with each other from across oceans in real-time and for it to sound as good as it would be if you were in the same room. That’s not the way I love to make music. I like us all to be in the same place. But when you’re making an album or making a movie, sometimes you have to do what you have to do to get the final product and get the final message across.”
As for the music itself, Groban pointed to two songs that weren’t originally under consideration for the Harmony album until the pandemic put a new backdrop on the project.
“There are a couple of songs that spring to mind that…I might have been a little intimidated or skeptical of doing, that felt absolutely right after everything we had gone through,” Groban said. “The Impossible Dream,” from Man of La Mancha, is a song Groban said he was reserving “for maybe another musical theater album or something along those lines.” “I hadn’t really sat and truly listened to the lyrics, and that was my bad,” he said. “But in my head, I just always thought of it as a kind of big, brash ballad and I didn’t really give it the thought that it deserved.” In the context of the pandemic’s difficulties, Groban reexamined the lyrics and connected with them more deeply. “I found myself getting really emotional while I was singing it,” he said. “There were so many things that happened over the course of that year and a half, two years, that suddenly those lyrics made even more sense to me.”
Another late addition to the album, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” is one Groban admitted he was “just scared to sing.” “I’d always wanted to sing it, but you always feel like you kind of have to have the stuff behind it before you tackle anything by Joni. I called my friend Sara Bareilles and said I know we both love her and love this song. I didn’t know if it was the right time, but now I kind of feel like it’s the right time. And she said ‘Yes, it’s the right time. Let’s do it.’”
Another change with the album was Groban’s decision to include a pair of original songs, “Your Face” and “The Fullest,” the latter of which takes on a gospel influence with Kirk Franklin guesting on the track.
Overall, “Harmony” brings a sense of comfort and optimism in a time when the world suddenly became a lot more uncertain and scary. In addition to the aforementioned songs, Harmony includes Groban’s versions of such contemporary pop standards as “Celebrate Me Home” (by Kenny Loggins), Sting’s “Shape of My Heart” (a duet with Leslie Odom Jr.) and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (a hit for Roberta Flack) while reaching back further for “It’s Now or Never” (the Elvis Presley hit) and also dipping into the Frank Sinatra catalog for “The World We Knew (Over and Over).”
What makes the songs stand out, besides Groban’s exceptional singing, are the orchestral arrangements. They bring a different musical element to many of the songs and also put the Harmony album squarely within the classical crossover/pop realm that Groban has occupied since he came on the scene with a 2001 self-titled debut album that sold more than four million copies worldwide. That album was followed by an even more popular outing, the 2003 release Closer, which featured the smash hit “You Raise Me Up.”
Now 41, Groban has largely maintained his popularity since, releasing seven more studio albums, while also making an impact as an actor on television (The Office, The Crazy Ones and The Good Cop), in movies (Crazy Stupid Love and Muppets Most Wanted) and on Broadway, where he was nominated for the 2017 Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award for his lead role as Pierre Bezukhov in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.
Having been off the road since the pandemic hit, Groban is beyond grateful and excited to be back on tour. He promised a show that will balance songs from Harmony with back catalog material, plus a visual presentation that was designed expressly for the outdoor amphitheaters that will host the concerts.
“When you’re playing outdoors, so much of your environment is setting the tone already for you,” he said. “I made this mistake when I was younger trying to force feed a big arena set into a bunch of outdoor sheds and I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, we’re wasting all this natural beauty trying to put all of these bells and whistles up here.’ So we’re really excited about the design for the summer tour because it’s classic, it’s going to be beautiful, it’s also going to let a lot of the natural beauty of these venues do the talking, as well as the music, of course.”
The evening will also feature performances from the venerable Preservation Hall Jazz Band and emerging singer/songwriter Eleri Ward, as well as violinist Lucia Micarelli.
“It’s going to be a night of gratitude, of really just us singing our faces off for people again,” Groban said.
- Who: Josh Groban
- What: Covers of classic pop and Broadway songs, along with original material
- Where: Vivint Arena
- When: July 27, 2022 at 7 p.m.
- Tickets: vivintarena.com