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Witty, weepy and grandiose

Josh Groban performs at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa as part of his 2011 Straight To You tour.

Luis Santana | Times

Josh Groban performs at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa as part of his 2011 Straight To You tour.

Somewhere on Josh Groban's body, there must be a switch.

Flip it down, and he becomes the nebbish, self-deprecating goofball who keeps popping up in comedies like The Office and Crazy, Stupid, Love. Flip it up, and you've launched the voice of Zeus incarnate.

When Groban arrived at the St. Pete Times Forum Friday on the home stretch of his globe-spanning Straight To You tour, all those goofy side gigs took a back seat to the thunderous tenor that pays his bills many times over. And still, between songs, he couldn't resist tickling the funny bones of 8,155 moms, aunts, grandmas and men who didn't mind missing Game 7 of the World Series.

Backed by a 13-piece band and orchestra, Groban is going largely acoustic on this tour, which proved to be a beautiful thing. Gone — well, reduced, anyway — were the moments of suffocating bombast with which his name has become synonymous. Instead, he entered from the rear, to a mini stage at center ice, to perform two of his simplest pop songs, Changing Colors and February Song, both easy access points that made his unearthly pipes sound human.

And on this night, appearing human was what Groban wanted. He mixed well-rehearsed stage banter with witty improv and audience interaction. He played a wicked drum solo.

He did a sneering, hip-swiveling impression of Axl Rose. He brought a sobbing female fan onstage to sing a duet, then asked: "Are you crying because you're scared, or are you crying because the Rangers are losing 5-2?"

It was like this all night: Goofy, then grandiose, witty, then weepy. Groban made small talk with a 9-year-old fan, then eased into Alejate, a slice of Spanish queso too melodramatic for a telenovela. He cracked wise about stopping at an I-4 truck stop for turkey jerky, then sang War at Home, a somber tribute to the troops.

The hammer didn't drop often, but when it did: Oh, heavens. The gigantic, tribal Alla Luce del Sole filled every square inch of the arena. And the delicate, chimelike Bells of New York City, a love letter to Groban's adopted hometown, was a tearjerker.

What Groban needs to do after this tour is sit down and compose that Broadway musical that's somewhere inside him. Like Groban, it could be funny, charming, winning and, when it's called for, show-stoppingly grand.

He could do it. Really. All he has to do is flip the switch.

Witty, weepy and grandiose 10/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 28, 2011 11:37pm]
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