Young crooner Wows His Fans
Orange County Register
February 2, 2004
By Paul Sterman
Sensation Josh Groban charms L.A. concert but proves he still needs work on his stage presence.

The soaring popularity of young Josh Groban was on full display Friday night at his Shrine Auditorium concert in Los Angeles.

At this stop on his first tour, the 22-year-old singer nearly sold out the cavernous venue, where surging crowds of adoring female fans showered him with shrieks and clamored to buy merchandise bearing his fresh-faced mug (by intermission, the $20 concert programs were all gone).

How could they resist the charms of a cherubic-faced singer who croons love songs in Italian?

Groban, who mixes high-octane pop ballads with easy-to-digest operatic tunes classical lite, basically has just seen his second album, "Closer," sail to No. 1 on the Billboard chart, rocketing past such smashes as OutKast's hip-hop-flavored "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" and country singer Toby Keith's "Shock'n Y'all."

The singer's powerful and supple baritone was showcased to fine effect at Friday's concert. (The L.A. native said performing at the Shrine had been "a dream of mine for a really long time.") Violinist Lucia Micarelli was a sublime accompanist on several numbers, and even played Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" in a solo.

At his best, Groban delivers stirring renditions of robust tunes, richly conveying the drama of the music. But the curly-haired crooner is also capable of over-the-top performances, unleashing overblown vocal fireworks, Celine Dion-style. After a while, many of Groban's songs only a few of which he wrote start to sound alike; a number of them are on the formulaic and schmaltzy side.

That said, when it comes to sensitive male singers with earnest manners, boyish looks, big voices and a flair for melodrama, Clay Aiken's got nothing on this guy.

Groban, whose self-titled 2001 album sold more than 5 million copies, was backed here by a 16-member orchestra and a five-piece band. He opened the show standing on a raised platform in the middle of the stage. Projected onto a sheer screen in front of him were images of waves crashing around him, as he sang "Oceano" from the new album. Several more songs from "Closer" followed, including a potent version of "Un Amore Per Sempre," performed with violinist Micarelli.

Shortly before intermission (the concert ran nearly two hours) Groban sang "To Where You Are," a tune that he first performed on a Christmas episode of TV's "Ally McBeal" and which eventually turned into a tribute for victims of 9/11. Another highlight was his rousing version of the anthemic "You Raise Me Up," for which he was joined by a 15-member choir.

At times, however, the instrumentalists played so loudly that they drowned out Groban. More effective was when he sang solo, uncluttered by symphonic accompaniment and exhibiting more subtlety to his singing, as on a sparkling "Broken Vow." Not so nuanced, though, was his interpretation of Don McLean's "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)," which called for a softer, less formal rendering.

The young vocalist, whose cross-country tour brings him to San Diego's Copley Symphony Hall tonight, still needs some work on his stage presence. Though amiable, he was somewhat stiff and awkward in his between-song patter.

And at times he was too eager to please. When his admiring fans shouted, "We love you, Josh" which was often he seemed to feel obligated to reply to each scream, saying, "I love you, too." The exchanges grew tiresome.

Then again, he's only 22, with so much to learn about love, life and moving a show alone.