He's in Fine Voice, If Not That of His Generation
Los Angeles Times
February 1, 2004
By Richard Cromelin
At the Shrine, Josh Groban proved unaffected, self-effacing and evocative of a more innocent time.

How did a nice Los Angeles kid like Josh Groban end up in a state like this? Hanging out with characters like David Foster (a man who produces records by Celine Dion and Chicago) instead of Dr. Dre or Axl Rose.... Starring on PBS instead of MTV.... Singing semi-classical Italian love songs and orchestral pop ballads rather than the kind of stuff most people his age (22) figure to be loading on their iPods.

The kid's probably a lost cause now, because his unlikely path has paid off big time. He sold more than 3 million copies of his debut album and has already passed 2 million on his second studio collection, "Closer," which in a recent week was No. 1 on the sales chart.

He's starred in a "Great Performances" special for PBS and shows up for things like the Winter Olympics closing ceremonies. Now he's headlining his first concert tour, and on Friday at the Shrine Auditorium, he led his avid audience into the Land That Rock Forgot.

There's nothing complicated here. If you don't go for this kind of music, nothing Groban did was going to persuade you. If you do, he's your only real choice right now.

The only question Friday was how he would come off as a concert performer, and even that has been answered to some degree by the familiarity created by his concert DVD.

Everything about Groban so far has been sincere and diligent, so it was no surprise that his 90-minute show was marked by professionalism and emotional honesty, if not by great artistic depth.

Backed by a versatile pop combo on one side and a string section on the other, Groban sifted through the range of his material.

Singers such as Dion touch on this world, but Groban is much deeper into its Euro-exotic flavors, branching into a French tune here, Spanish there. It's all done with the broadest, most superficial signifiers "fiery" Gypsy guitar and silhouettes of a flamenco dancer on the backdrop screen, for instance.

Subtlety isn't big in this world, so it was nice to find that while Groban's clear, strong tenor is perfect for the grand gestures of the romantic repertoire, his singing avoided bombast and kept things down to earth.

The foreign languages and the Hallmark-card poetry of some of the English songs let you focus on the pure melodrama of his voice, and in every case Friday, he respected the material, trying to inhabit and convey it rather than overwhelm it with technique.

Like a church's schismatic sect, Groban and his audience reject the movements sweeping through the culture's main arena and huddle together to preserve rituals and attitudes generally regarded as archaic.

It's a conservative world, where passion is sublimated into sweeping orchestrations instead of coming on with rock's blunt sexuality. It has no interest in humor, danger, ambiguity or surprise, some of the things that give rock and some contemporary pop their appeal.

In line with that idealism, it's likely that some of Groban's appeal stems from his boy-next-door personality. Most male singers of this persuasion are exotic foreigners, but here's a kid from Hancock Park who looks as if he should be helping you to the car with your groceries, yet can soar into the stratosphere of a pop aria.

At the Shrine, Groban was unaffected and self-effacing. It was disconcerting to hear him follow the misteriosostrains of "Oceano" by exclaiming, "Los Angeles! Wow!" Looking casual, almost rumpled, he seemed determined to stay a regular guy.

What little stage flamboyance there was came from barefoot violinist Lucia Micarelli, who stepped out for a couple of showy spotlight turns.

Most of his listeners Friday looked at least old enough to be his mom or dad, and there was a parental feel in the auditorium.

Groban is the perfect son who found his gift and didn't waste it, and it almost seemed as if everyone should gather for coffee and pastries after the show and give the kid a pat on the back.