Groban Mesmerizes Merrill Crowd
Portland Press Herald
February 27, 2004
By Stephanie Bouchard
“Josh is like a potato chip,” said Grobanite Donna Gizzi of New York, who with friend and fellow Grobanite Ricki Butler drove five hours to attend Josh Groban’s sold-out Wednesday night concert at Merrill Auditorium. “You can’t have just one.”

Gizzi and Butler met through Josh Groban’s fan club, Friends of Josh Groban, whose members call themselves Grobanites. The two have seen several of Groban’s concerts, even flying across country to attend them, and are planning to take in several more.

To be honest, even though I have been a fan of Josh Groban’s since the first time I heard his voice, what I’d heard of the Grobanites made me think they were one toe over the edge.

Having now met some and now having experienced Josh Groban live, I’m a true believer.

The encouraging clapping of audience members before Groban appeared on stage erupted into wholehearted applause and hooting from the full house when the curtain went up. Scenes of water and crashing waves were projected onto a sheer screen for the opening song, “Oceano”, from Groban’s latest album, “Closer”.

Dressed in a slate gray suit with pinstriped pants, Groban appeared above the stage - almost seeming to be floating - with a smile on his face. The sheer screen lifted, Groban descended a set of stairs to the stage floor, and members of the audience were on their feet.

Over the wild cheering following the close of his first song, Groban said an enthusiastic hello to the crowd, introducing himself as Josh and telling everyone that he hadn’t been to Maine since he was a kid. “I have hoped and dreamed of coming back and doing a full concert here,” he said before beginning “My Confession”, also a song from his new album.

On several songs, such as “My Confession”, “Vincent” and “Mi Morena”, Groban was joined center stage by one of the guitarists from the band, Tariqh Akoni. Clad in leather pants, pointy boots, and wearing double gold loops in both ears, Akoni exuded a sexiness that reverberated in his playing and garnered appreciation from the audience, especially on the Latin-sounding “Mi Morena”, a song found on one of the special-edition versions of “Closer”.

It was obvious from the first note Groban sang that the quality of his voice on CD isn’t due to great production values. He’s a tall and slim young man, so you have to wonder where he gets the vocal power he produces. Not one to prance around the stage, he still moved, up and down stairs, and while singing, leaned into the song with his whole body.

Groban seemed relaxed and comfortable in his own skin, confident on stage and with the audience. Banter was minimal but he did spend some time talking. After he finished “To Where You Are”, he opened his arms wide and proclaimed to the thrill of the audience, “I could just reach out and touch all of you!”

The crowd burst into cheers as he extended himself toward audience members in the front row, for hugs and handshakes, “I can reach out and touch you.”

Responding to his question if anyone in the audience had had a good Valentine’s Day, segments of the crowd clapped. Responding to his question if anyone in the audience had a not so good Valentine’s Day, a larger segment of the crowd clapped and hooted. One woman screamed: “I love you, Josh,” to which he responded, “I love you, too, and this song’s for you.”

Groban has often said that he loves sad songs and the song that followed, “Broken Vow”, certainly fits that bill. One of the highlights of the show came after his 20 minute intermission when featured violinist Lucia Micarelli - who was barefooted during the entire concert - performed a solo violin piece that crescendoed with the backing of electric guitars, drums and percussion into part of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

One of the nice things Groban’s concerts include are local musicians. The string section on stage was made up of local musicians. But for me, the truly special event of the concert happened during the last 60 seconds of his last song, “You Raise Me Up”. As Groban sang, a chorus of high school students descended two sets of stairs on the outer edges of the stage.

What gave them away as a local chorus? The Windham High School Chorus all looked like they were going to burst with happiness and excitement as they backed up Groban. Their apparent joy was icing on the cake.

Speaking of cake, just before Groban returned to stage after the intermission, a message began passing through the crowd. “We’re going to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Josh after the second curtain call. Pass it on.” Today is Groban’s 23rd birthday. The singing of “Happy Birthday” actually happened at the close of “You Raise Me Up”, when the birthday cake was brought out on stage to his astonishment and bashful thanks.

The only hiccup during the show happened as the curtain went up following intermission. It and the sheer screen stopped about mid-way up their rise so that when Groban started singing, the curtain and screen obscured him. He made a comment into the mike which loosely translated into “OK guys. What’s going on?” The stalled curtain and screen situation only lasted about 30 seconds and certainly wasn’t enough of a glitch to even scratch the surface of the overall show.

The only other thing that may or may not bear mentioning is that while the orchestration sounded nice, for me and for some other audience members it was almost overpowering. And with a voice like Groban’s, what you want to hear is the voice. The songs he sang with just guitar, violin and piano backing him, in my mind, brought out the pure beauty of his voice and were my favorites to listen to because his voice was loud and clear and there were no distractions.

Orchestration distraction or not, the audience loved Groban. He got several standing ovations, one following his performance on piano of a song he co-wrote, “Remember When It Rained”. Groban performed for about an hour and 45 minutes. He returned to the stage for one encore to the sound of stomping feet, clapping and hooting from the audience and promised to return. We all hope so.

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