Groban Blends Genres, Sweetness With Aplomb
San Jose Mercury News
January 31, 2004
By Marian Liu
He could become the pop world's Luciano Pavarotti.

Packing a little classical music, rock, pop and opera, Josh Groban packed the Paramount Theatre in Oakland Wednesday night.

The show was sold out long ago, tickets having disappeared even more quickly than they do for the usual pop suspects like Britney Spears.

Indeed, Groban's success is astounding at a time when more people are downloading music than are buying it. His self-titled debut album sold more than 5 million copies, and in November his second album, "Closer," sold 116,000 copies the day it came out, securing the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts.

His live performance reflected his albums' success. The baritone belted out songs that drove the crowd -- which included many people two and three times his age -- into a frenzy. They squealed even though many of his lyrics are in Italian or Spanish.

The program lifted off with a lighted screen showing crashing waves encircling Groban while he sang "Oceano." Throughout the evening, the lighting scheme was beautiful, blending hues of orange over a silhouetted dancer during "Mi Morena" and blues over shadows of trees for "My December." Images of rain droplets pelting the stage added to the remorse of "Remember When It Rained."

Groban demonstrated his piano prowess on "Rained," eliciting a standing ovation. During "You Raise Me Up," his powerful voice was joined by a choir from Piedmont High School.

He paid tribute to Celine Dion, singing her "Just Walk Away" in Spanish (as "Alejate" , and setting the mood for many in the audience who undoubtedly were using the night to get psyched up for Valentine's Day.

Dion helped propel the 22-year-old from Los Angeles into the spotlight in 1999, when he was Andrea Bocelli's stand-in during the Grammy Awards dress rehearsal. While singing "The Prayer" with Dion, Groban wowed Grammy host Rosie O'Donnell, which led to an appearance on her talk show and a performance at the 2002 Winter Olympics closing ceremony in Salt Lake City. He also performed during an inaugural ceremony for former Gov. Gray Davis.

But it wasn't until his television spot on "Ally McBeal" that many first caught the curly haired crooner. His selections Wednesday included "To Where You Are," his song from that show.

His appeal is not only his voice but his vibe. He projects a sweet boy-next-door image compounded with a dash of dorkiness. During "Broken Vow," he brought tears not only to his audience's eyes, but also his own. And while his songs display an old-soul spirit of bittersweet love and agony, he speaks with the enthusiasm of a kid.

He proclaimed that many of the songs were his "favorite" -- until he realized that would mean everything was his favorite, at which point he said the crowd was his favorite, and then that his orchestra was his favorite.

He looked dapper in a black suit, changing twice into jeans, first with a black- and then a white-collared shirt. Still, one of his musicians threatened to take the spotlight away from him. Violinist Lucia Micarelli treated her instrument with as much passion as she would a dancing partner or even a lover, and her notes swayed with Groban's romantic strains through many of the songs, such as "Un Amore Per Sempre."