Josh Groban Stands Out for What He Is - and Isn't
Rocky Mountain News
February 7, 2004
By Marc Shulgold
For those who watched that nasty Super Bowl halftime show and are convinced that American popular music has officially and permanently landed in the sewer - yo, I've got two words for you.

No, not those two words. These two: Josh Groban.

He's young (22, bordering on 23), he's nice to his adoring fans, he sings gentle love ballads with a polished baritone and, at least judging from his sold-out show at the Buell Theatre on Friday, he minds his manners.

Groban is the boy you happily discover your teenage daughter has a crush on. And, considering that the L.A.-born vocalist has hit the big time with a sold-out tour and the No. 1 album in the country, Closer, it wouldn't be all that bad if your little girl married him.

That said - and, believe me, I'm not dismissing such wholesome attributes and dedication to in-tune singing - at least one member of Friday's crowd left the Buell puzzled.

Beyond the boyish charm and pleasant crooning, what's the attraction with this kid?

Backed by a solid 21-piece orchestra (with pre-recorded instrumental and vocal enhancement), Groban did little more than stand (or sit) and sing. Alternating between holding the mike with one hand or two, he seemed uninterested in "selling" a song: No grand gestures, no arm thrusts. Just walking up and down staircases.

Dressed unremarkably in black and gray, he earnestly sang a collection of pretty songs in English or Italian (with the Spanish Alejate tossed in) - and not one of them ventured past a moderate tempo. True, his phrasing on My December was involving and his belt-it-out finale to Remember When It Rained (featuring Groban at the piano) brought them to their feet.

But the sentiments of such angst-filled teen ballads as My Confession and Broken Vow ("I let you go, I let you fly, Why do I keep on asking why") hardly raised the pulse.

Groban knows his own limitations. The voice remains comfortably in the middle range, and the pace is gentle enough so that there's no danger of working up a sweat.

A competent band led by violinist Lucia Micarelli and pianist Zachary Provost provided a lush backdrop, while a steadily changing lighting scheme bathed the stage in suitably warm colors.

The glow sticks were waved by his adoring fans at the Big Finish - the derivative. feel-good anthem, You Raise Me Up (featured in the Super Bowl pregame show, and quickly overshadowed by other, um, singers). Down those staircases came a group of 16 gifted backup singers from the Denver School of the Arts.

It was all so refreshing and, well, nice.

The crowd - which ranged from teens to their parents' generation - represent a part of American culture that the music industry has arrogantly ignored. Clearly, Groban is happy to fill a void in the lives of millions of music-lovers who simply want to hear a lovely tune, sung by a decent chap with a good voice.

The fact that he's making tons of cash should serve as a wake-up call to the ugly, foul-mouthed, bustier-clad world of rock 'n' violence.