Soaring to the Top, and Beyond, With Josh Groban
The Washington Post
March 29, 2004
By Mike Joyce
If singer Josh Groban's Washington debut at Constitution Hall on Saturday night had been a PBS pledge drive program -- something it closely resembled -- the phones might still be ringing. It hardly mattered whether the 23-year-old "popera" wonder boy was singing in English, Italian or Spanish, or whether a translation appeared on a wing-to-wing projection screen. Just the sound of Groban's voice, a strong, pleasant, ever-so-earnest baritone, was enough to trigger overlapping waves of cheers, squeals and applause from an adoring capacity crowd. Not to mention the occasional outburst of affection from an avowed "Grobanite."

"I love you, Josh," shouted a man shortly after the concert began. "I love you, too," Groban swiftly responded, obviously acting on reflex. He paused a moment, then shrugged. "Could have been a girl, but that's okay."

Yet, rousing as it was, the audience response was no match for a long series of over-amplified and sometimes overwrought orchestrations performed by the California-bred singer's six-piece band and a group of local string musicians. Beginning with "Oceano," Groban's initial and reasonably sure-footed dip into Italian, and "My Confession," which could pass for a parody of anguished pop opera, even the subdued passages were awfully loud.

Clearly each arrangement was designed to underscore the emotional climax that Groban sought to reach in theatrically calibrated steps, and one could hardly fault the musicians for playing their parts well.

But rather than enhancing Groban's impressive, if similarly pitched, vocals, the often blaring, busy and melodramatic instrumentation tended to overshadow them.

Granted, there were intimate moments sprinkled here and there. At times, however, it seemed more than a little ironic that someone who appears to have no affinity for rock music would fall victim to the kind of genre-mixing excesses associated with art-rock.

Likable in an unassuming and still somewhat awkward way, Groban stopped climbing up and down staircases on the three-tier stage long enough to reminisce about his role on "Ally McBeal."

He performed a refreshingly uncluttered version of Don McLean's van Gogh homage "Vincent," and briefly played piano on the self-penned ballad "Remember When It Rained." Violinist Lucia Micarelli and guitarist Tariqh Akoni added some welcome warmth and color, too. Then Groban took another hike.

Early on, one question arose. How do you begin to cap a concert in which almost every song aims to produce a resounding emotional catharsis or inspirational lift?

With the help of a lot of young, local talent. The Eastern High School Choir buttressed a reprise of Groban's recent hit anthem "You Raise Me Up," a performance that prompted lots of Grobanites to wave little glow sticks in the air until the final encore faded.