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Roses and Groban

This past week brought two entirely different shows to the area. Book of Love played a sold-out concert at the House of Blues Parish and Sarah McLachlan and Josh Groban played Champion Square. Being the product of the '80s, this year has been pretty much a modern nostalgic dream, with Modern English, The Cure, The Church, and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Duran Duran, They Might Be Giants, and Peter Murphy all coming through New Orleans. I'm saving some nostalgia for when Guns N Roses and Def Leopard with Styx and Tesla come through town. With that, seeing Book of Love, the true epitome of '80s music, and Sarah McLachlan were just icing on one amazing summer cake.

Book of Love is a synth-pop band that formed in 1983 in Philadelphia. The band is headed by vocalist Susan Ottaviano. The band also includes keyboardists Ted Ottaviano, who is no relation to Susan, Lauren Roselli and Jade Lee.

The entire band recently reunited to play a one-off in New York. As a result of that show, members decided to hit the road, less Roselli and Lee. They are in the midst of their 30th anniversary tour and have released a new retrospective to mark the occasion, with a new single.

The duo, as opposed to a quartet, was very consolidated. Ted had a computer with beats programmed, which he sang along to and played keys. Susan was electric to say the least. She fed on the crowd’s energy and the small sold-out club was the perfect venue for the group to get reacquainted with touring. The last time the band played New Orleans was back in 2001 and Susan expressed surprise that they hadn’t been here since. The set was primarily composed of the self-titled debut, and a track from their other releases.

The “An Evening With” format made the set seem short, but the group basically played everything everyone wanted to hear. I was happy they opened with my favorite track and not a bit surprised by the way the set rounded out. While introducing “Boy,” Susan commented on how the song had helped so many people through the years. The encore was “I Touch Roses,” and the band took the opportunity to hand out roses. The great thing about the evening was that I was immediately taken back to the '80s and was not the oldest in the room for a change.

Speaking of not being the oldest, such was the case for the Josh Groban show. The theatrical crooner and his opener Sara McLachlan drew a totally different crowd and set. McLachlan opened the night with a brief 45-minute set. Unlike her last performance at the Saenger almost two years ago, she was solo. The set was dark and McLachlan joked about that fact.

Throughout her set, she switched between piano and acoustic guitar and told some stories behind the songs as she went along. It was funny to hear about her time living in New Orleans in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. She said “Building a Mystery” was loosely based on her time in the city. After listening to the lyrics again, that totally makes sense now.

McLachlan's set ended almost as fast as it started, but Josh Groban came to the stage and went straight into the Willie Wonka theme song, “Pure Imagination,” accompanied only by the piano. After the song ended, with a grand gesture, He waved his arm for the giant backdrop to fall and reveal the local orchestra for the night. He apologized for not making his last performance at the Saenger Theater and thought it only fitting to start the tour in New Orleans, even if he did seem a bit out of place among all the sports memorabilia.

His set was mainly covers, but that really isn’t a surprise. McLachlan returned to the stage to sing with Groban on a cover of Snow Patrol’s “Run” and her hit, “Angle.” Groban was beyond giddy after their duets, calling McLachlan the “transcendent” Sarah. The voices paired well with each other. Much as in  McLachlan's set, but at greater length, Groban told stories of why he chose to play certain songs and what they meant to him. He dedicated “Le Temps des Cathédrales,” from the musical “Notre-Dame de Paris,” to the people of France, wishing them and everyone peace.

The end of his set was predictable, but no one seemed to care. His music is timeless and the close of the main set and his encore were testaments to that point. “You Raise Me Up” was accompanied by a choir from Tulane University, lifting his emotional anthem to a new level. Groban returned to the stage to play his unique and romantic take on “Somewhere over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz.

The pure nostalgia that each act brought reminded me of how powerful and amazing music is and can be. The ability to Make an audience forget about their cares for a few hours is always a plus. You can see more Book of Love shots here and Josh and Sarah here.

Steven Hatley is a New Orleans-based photographer. You can find more of his photography here.