The Man Can Rumble
February 20, 2004
By John Terauds
There's a cola out there boasting all the sugar and twice the caffeine. There's also a young singer out there with all the voice and twice the tears, and he came to the Air Canada Centre last night for a love-in with thousands of devoted local fans.
Josh Groban is the fresh-faced, iron-voiced and tender-hearted vocalist who has been sitting high in the Billboard charts since the release of his second album, Closer, last fall. And he is a breath of fresh musical air in the gimmicky world of pop.
This guy sings, and he sings well with a strong, clear and vibrato-free baritone. His broad range never disappoints, from falsetto high notes to rumbling lows. And Groban wears his heart on his sleeve.
"I just love sad songs," he said to his adoring fans. And he sings them with forthright intensity.
Toward the end of the first half of the evening, Groban sang "To Where You Are," from his first, self-titled album. It's been in his repertoire for a while, and is one of the songs he sang when guesting on Ally McBeal a couple of years back: "Fly me up to where you are/ Beyond the distant star/ I wish upon tonight/ To see you smile/ If only for awhile/ To know you're there."
These are the sort of words that connect emotionally at Groban's touch, and the tissues came out in abundance in the audience to dry moistened eyes.
But Groban can also raise stronger passions. The closing song of the first set — "Let Me Fall" — was a great bodice ripper set to music.
Throughout the evening, Groban proved time and again that he is the young heir to a long and honourable — if sometimes cheesy — line of male singers extending to the previous generation's Julio Iglesias.
And unlike his English-speaking brethren, Groban's penchant for singing in Italian and Spanish belies his tousle-haired-California-boy-next-door looks.
In all, Groban sperformed 16 songs, not counting encores. He occasionally sang a bit flat during key changes, but on the whole it was an assured show. He's such a pro that when he tripped on the stairs while in mid-voice on "Alla Luce Del Sole," he didn't miss a beat and managed to laugh about it afterward.
This is Groban's first "world tour," a gruelling excursion which has him criss-crossing the continent.
His next eastern stops are in Montreal tonight and Ottawa on Sunday. Such a schedule means travelling light, but the singer did come with full backup string orchestra led by violinist Lucia Micarelli — a barefoot diva in her own right who enjoyed a couple of moments in the limelight — and a small band notable for its lead guitarist Tariq Akoni.
The set consisted of three flights of those pesky stairs and a well-designed array of scrims and lighting. This is dinky stuff in this day of pyrotechnics and flying musicians, but it was the perfect complement to Groban's straightforward personal style.
To paraphrase the official program's closing song — "Raise Me Up," accompanied by the University of Toronto Gospel Choir — Josh Groban raised his audience up so that it could stand on mountains with him.
Sometimes it isn't gimmicks that sell records, but good, honest emotion backed up by a good, honest voice.