Fans Swoon For Groban
Montreal Gazette
February 22, 2004
By Bernard Perusse
Delivers powerful performance at Bell. Relaxed, self-effacing stage persona creates bond that serves music well.

What, exactly, is going on here?

A 22-year-old singer with a big voice and a pleasant, low-key demeanour goes multiplatinum with his first two albums and sells out all the venues on his first world tour. Commercially, he leaves contemporaries with equally appealing pipes and charm in the dust. What has made Josh Groban so huge?

Sure, connections have helped. When powerhouse producer David Foster takes you under his wing, doors open. But Foster is not why Grobanites - the devotees already have a name - were swooning on Friday when Groban's tour stopped at the Bell Centre. Even nonbelievers among the congregation of 8,000 would have to concede the Los Angeles native delivered everything his fans came for - and then some - without Foster's help.

Some of the appeal is in the presentation. In the opening song, Oceano, Groban appeared to be standing in mid-air as waves were projected around him. Two dancers appeared in silhouette during Mi Morena. Moody rain images were projected on a back screen for Remember When It Rained, snow for My December. The show was pretty much textbook-perfect in the lighting and staging department.

But the big deal is mostly in the music, much of which sounded more powerful Friday night than it does on CD - even though it was an uphill battle against the Bell Centre's dodgy acoustics. Groban's backup musicians - a five-piece band and a string section - did much to fatten up the sound and give it a live warmth.

Particularly impressive was violinist-concertmaster Lucia Micarelli, who played call-and-response phrases opposite Groban's singing in Mi Mancherai, but also managed to kick things into high gear by throwing a section of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody into her solo spot.

Groban's discs also fail to capture the disarming charm of a singer who simply sings, without chest-thumping overkill. His relaxed, self-effacing stage persona creates an audience-performer bond that serves the music well, too. If there was disappointment on the intimacy level, it was due only to the size of the arena - a problem that could have been alleviated by a couple of video screens.

When Groban sat at the piano for Remember When It Rained, which he co-wrote, he was more singer-songwriter than balladeer. It was moments like that, followed by a pleasing cover of Don McLean's Vincent, that made the second half of the show more satisfying than the first.

The biggie, You Raise Me Up, predictably offered as the last pre-encore song Friday, probably explains the whole enigma as well as anything. The song comes perilously close to Wind Beneath My Wings gooey horror, but is somehow saved by a haunting Celtic violin phrase and the singer's sheer believability.

Even when he brought out a choir to beef up the second half of the song, he was only looking over the cliff, somehow managing not to jump. With Groban, big isn't bad at all.