Groban Glides Over Bumps Thanks to Powerful Voice
Chicaco Sun Times
February 14, 2004
By Miriam Di Nunzio
Why is Josh Groban so sad? OK, maybe he's not actually sad, but this kid sings with more melancholy than was ever emoted by Lena Horne on "Stormy Weather" and Frank Sinatra on "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)" combined.

Indeed, Groban quite possibly sang the saddest songs in the musical firmament Thursday night at the Rosemont Theatre. But he made beautiful music of it nonetheless.

In the opening weeks of his first (and completely sold-out) 40-date world tour, the multiplatinum-selling artist -- his latest album, "Closer" (Warner/ Reprise) last year outsold discs by Christina Aguilera, Ludacris, Justin Timberlake, Dave Matthews, Eminem and Alicia Keys, to name a few -- continues to baffle critics, astound audiences and defy genre classification. Is it pop? Opera? Classical? At the end of the night, does it really matter?

Onstage, the puppy-eyed Groban was as endearing as an entertainer can be and then some. With his aw-shucks persona, curly locks and sincere gentility, the 22-year-old is gosh-darnit nice. He makes you want to draw near, set a spell and enjoy the ride -- even if it's a bumpy one at times.

A concert is the chance for fans to get up close and personal with their icons, to connect with them in the three-dimensional world, even if that means simply extending a hand for a brief shake. But for Grobanites (as his hard-core fans call themselves), who until this tour have only enjoyed seeing their icon on the small screen, Groban might as well have been on television. He spent the entire night way upstage to the point where he seemed afraid of the hordes staring back at him from the darkness. Save for one moment where he actually broke through the "fourth wall" and shook hands with two adoring front-row fans, Groban was content to stay upstage as much as possible.

He also spent a lot of time on the staircases that intersected the set. In a ridiculous stunt, he closed the first half of the concert with a swan dive backward off the top of one of the staircases during the gloomy "Let Me Fall." It was a punctuating gimmick this enormously talented young singer could do without.

On the technical side, dramatic swirling vortexes of fog were coupled with a spattering of lighting and shadowy scrim effects. Yawn. Tremendous overamplification rendered Groban's lush voice tinny on a few occasions, and at one point you could hear his glass of water clanking atop the piano.

That said, Groban more than delivered the goods where it mattered most, and that was in his singing. There's no question he can belt out a tune with the bombast of Andrea Bocelli and the gentleness of Michael Crawford. Opening with the pulsating "Oceano," Groban comfortably navigated the repertoire from his two albums, the arrangements nearly verbatim. His foray into pop included a heady take on Don McLean's "Vincent," a pair of self-penned tunes from "Closer" and the mother of all 9/11 songs, "To Where You Are." Groban's forte is sweeping power ballads, and there's no other artist out there who can do them more justice.

On the classical side, he relied on a beautiful selection of Italian and Spanish popera -- the sexy "Alejate," the heartfelt "Caruso," the heart-tugging "Mi Mancherai." Sad songs, yes, but truly beautiful in Groban's hands. He closed the night with a rousing turn on the redemptive "You Raise Me Up" (featuring a local chorus, natch), followed by two planned encores. The thunderous standing ovations from a widely diverse crowd -- everyone from young teens to seventysomethings -- were deafening.

Like the crooners in the spotlight who invented and mastered this style of entertainment decades before he was born, Groban fills a concert hall with all the right notes. And maybe someday, they can even be happy ones.