Groban Pours on the Love
Sacramento Bee: SacTicket
January 29, 2004 By Rasmi Simhan, Arts Critic
The tall, curly haired young singer tried to tell the crowd how great it was to be in Sacramento. He was quickly drowned out by whistles and shouts of "I love you!"

"Um, hi," said Josh Groban with an embarrassed laugh, shifting from foot to foot and looking as if he wasn't sure what to do with his hands.

Groban's shy, unassuming manner gave way to an earnest performance of mostly romantic songs Tuesday night at Memorial Auditorium. Refreshingly still while he sang, he allowed his pleasant baritone to convey emotion without resorting to theatricality. String players and pop musicians provided soft-rock support.

More than a singer, the 22-year-old Groban is a phenomenon. His second album, "Closer," topped the Billboard charts this month. Poised to perform at the Super Bowl on Sunday, the Los Angeles native has sung at the Olympics and the Grammy Awards and on TV's "Ally McBeal" show. Tuesday's concert was an early stop on his first major tour.

The concert opened with "Oceano," complete with watery lights and shadows flowing across a screen. During the song's climax, Groban stood beneath the crest of a wave singing beautifully in Italian with slightly Americanized vowels. None of the non-English songs came with translations except the Italian song "Caruso," whose strains of love and melancholy, intimacy and distance are particularly well-captured in words: "With a little makeup and with mime/You can become someone else/But two eyes that look at you/So close and real/Make you forget the words." For the others, the music conveyed the emotional meaning.

Arguably, the evening's highlight was "Vincent," a Don McLean song about painter Vincent van Gogh. The simple trio of piano, violin and guitar suited the intimacy of Groban's singing better than the over-busy instrumentation and projected images of the rest of the concert. Groban ably accompanied himself on the piano for "Remember When It Rained." Soloists added texture to the otherwise blandly dramatic, easy-listening musical setting. Guitarist Tariqh Akoni brought a Latin flavor to "Mi Morena" and other songs sung in Spanish.

"Mi Mancherai" featured violinist and concertmaster Lucia Micarelli, whose clean if unremarkable playing was given a chance to stand out in a solo of the first half of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."

The Davis Madrigal Choir provided inspiring backup vocals for "You Lift Me Up."

To this ear, Groban sings with a sincere but unvarying intensity that doesn't always convey the shifts in mood within a song. One would also like to hear him perform songs in different tempos about something other than love or melancholia - for variety's sake and to show his versatility.

But the ardent "Grobanites" - who broke out their light sticks at the end - appeared to enjoy the concert, and this perhaps is what matters.

As for Groban, whatever stardom may bring, one hopes he remains as ingenuous as he seemed Tuesday night.

Picture Caption: Josh Groban performs in a sold-out Memorial Auditorium on Tuesday.