Review of Josh Groban: Live at the Greek
All Music Guide
By Aaron Latham
Josh Groban's first filmed concert performance for PBS was a great success when aired during the station's pledge drives and the resulting DVD became a best seller. Therefore, it was not surprising that PBS wanted a follow-up, especially after Groban's second disc, Closer, became a number one hit. The final show of Groban's Closer tour at the Greek Amphitheater in Los Angeles was selected for the project, and after airing on PBS, the concert was packaged as a CD/DVD combo.
Although Live at the Greek is an enticing product for any Groban fan, it does have one drawback (as did his first DVD) in that the CD version of the concert only features eight of the DVD's 17 performances. This poses a problem for anyone who simply wants to listen to the concert, especially when two of his most popular songs, "To Where You Are" and "You Raise Me Up," are missing from the CD. However, people will most likely be drawn to the DVD to begin with, so the lack of material on the CD is not a huge detriment -- just an annoyance.
Unlike his first filmed concert that was more of a formal affair in a music hall, the performance for Live at the Greek is much more casual in the amphitheater's setting, resembling a pop/rock concert with a grand set and intricate lighting. Groban opens with the majestic "Oceano" and immediately the power of his voice is recognized. However, like some classically trained performers Groban is not a natural entertainer. When he performs in a symphonic setting, people are there to listen and appreciate his talent, but when the audience consists of thousands of screaming females, he seems uncomfortable, especially when performing with the vivacious violinist Lucia Micarelli, who wows the crowd with her solo number "Nocturne/Bohemian Rhapsody." Groban basically stands and sings throughout most of the concert, which is not really a bad thing since his voice commands attention on songs like "Caruso" or "Remember," but it doesn't make him the most exciting performer to watch.
But as the concert progresses Groban relaxes and he seems most comfortable and more emotional when he is playing an instrument as well as singing. When he plays piano on the saccharine ballad "Remember When It Rained" or on the encore of Paul Simon's "America," he really shines as he performs with a freedom and expression that is engaging, as if the instrument were feeding his emotional core. His vigorous drum solo on "Canto Alla Vita" takes the crowd by surprise and prompts them to a standing ovation. It's moments like these that are the highlights of Live at the Greek and show that Groban is slowly growing as an entertainer. But for most folks it is still his voice that draws them to him and he impeccably performs each song of the concert. That is why it is unfortunate that the CD is skimpy in selection. Nonetheless, anyone who enjoys Josh Groban will be pleased with his performance on Live at the Greek.