Grobanís Pop-Classical Blend Thrills Fans at Concert
Arizona Daily Star
May 11, 2004
By Cathalena E. Burch
Review: Josh Groban in concert Sunday night at Casino del Sol's AVA

Josh Groban had barely gotten to the chorus in his haunting opening song "Oceana" when the chills started rushing from the back to the neck and down the arms.

It's that voice. A rich, flawless baritone that can't decide if it's classical or pop. An operatic aria one moment followed -without skipping a note - by a sad, pop break-up song that could easily be covered by Justin Timberlake.

Many of the 4,600 who packed Casino del Sol's AVA Sunday wouldn't argue with the label "popera," a hybrid that melodically straddles pop music's high-brow and middle ground.

Groban is blessed with a deliciously flawless voice that crawls delicately into your ears and floats with ease to your heart and soul. It cries out to be savored, even if he's singing in a language that you haven't a clue about. And when it grows silent after a two-hour workout, you long for just one more song, one more chance to breathe in that talent.

The 22-year-old Groban showed off all sides of his musical personality immediately after he bounded on stage like a carefree teenager, his tousled hair blowing from the breeze created by several onstage fans. The high hit 97 degrees on Sunday, so he came prepared for the worst.

"What a beautiful evening," he greeted the sold-out crowd, then bent down and shut off one of the fans. "This is my first outdoor concert, so you can see I have too many fans on stage."

"We love you, Josh!" a group of women on the lawn screamed, interrupting his greeting.

"Oh, I love you, too," Groban answered, the first of several "I love yous" he sent to the crowd.

Groban gave the audience much to love: beautiful ballads like "Un Amore Per Sempre" and the weepy Italian standard "Caruso," followed by such familiar fare as a cover of Don McLean's "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)" and the Spanish-language version of Tejano princess Selena's "Just Walk Away," spiced up with flamenco rhythms by guitarist Tariqh Akoni.

Akoni and four other musicians backed Groban alongside a 15-member ensemble from the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and violin soloist Lucia Micarelli, who doubled as concertmaster with the loaned symphony.

Micarelli was Groban's duet partner several times, her violin acting as her voice. Barefoot, she strolled the stage with the grace of a ballet dancer, playing with equal parts passion and ferocity on songs including "Mi Mancherai" and the pop ballad "My Confession."

At each song, the audience applauded with the intensity of a pop audience but maintained a classical-concert decorum, steadfastly resisting the urge to leap up for a standing ovation.

The audience let pass several standing-o moments: the stirring "Broken Vow"; the pop ballads "My December" and "To Where You Are"; the Italian aria "Alla Luce Dal Sole."

When Groban staged a fall at the end of "Let Me Fall," the audience let out a collective gasp followed by thunderous, but seated, applause.

Micarelli's violin solo during the evening's second half was the audience's undoing. She started out playing a classical piece then segued into a snippet of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" before returning to the classical piece. It was too much; people rose to their feet, unwillingly at first, then enthusiastically.

Which made it so much easier to abandon their seats for Groban. It happened when Groban, backed by the Tucson High Magnet School choir, was singing "You Raise Me Up," the goose-bump-inducing pop ballad he performed at the Super Bowl Feb. 1.

When he hit that high note in the chorus, the young choir right behind him, the spine tingled and there was no denying it was time to jump out of your seat and clap harder than you'd imagined you would at a concert billed as classical.