Attractive Voice Fills Cavernous Arena
May 12, 2004
By Valerie Scher and Eduardo Contreras
Josh Groban gave fans at the San Diego Sports Arena what they wanted -- sincere, sad songs and show-bizzy effects.

What makes Josh Groban's fans happy?

Sad songs the sadder, the better.

And Groban satisfied the need Monday when he sang ballad after soulful ballad at the San Diego Sports Arena.

"I love sad songs," the lanky, curly-haired performer told the audience that filled most of the approximately 7,000 seats that were configured for the concert. "I think they're the most honest songs out there."

Groban knew just how to perform them. After all, he's America's answer to Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli a purveyor of resonant sincerity who sings in English, Spanish and Italian and has fervent fans who call themselves Grobanites. Non-Grobanites may be a little less enchanted with the singer's onslaught of earnestness. (Doesn't he know any cheerful, peppy numbers?) They may also question whether much of his material has lasting artistic value.

But his success is undeniable. At 23, the Los Angeles native is already a crossover phenomenon who has sold millions of CDs and appeared on "Ally McBeal," "Oprah" and the Super Bowl's pre-game show.

The Sports Arena concert replaced the Feb. 2 date at downtown's Copley Symphony Hall, which Groban missed because he was ill.

"It's good to finally be here," said the singer, whose latest tour has promoted his album "Closer."

He was accompanied by both touring and local musicians, and received expert backing from such instrumentalists as guitarist Tariqh Akoni and violinist Lucia Micarelli, a barefoot virtuosa with a passionate style.

Groban was his usual endearing self, trying to create a sense of intimacy in a large, impersonal and highly amplified setting. Because of the amplification, his voice had only three dynamic levels: medium loud, loud and louder still.

Even with the distortion, there was no mistaking the fundamentally attractive qualities of his voice, with its handsome timbre and quick vibrato. He revealed a strong sense of phrasing, as in the Van Gogh tribute "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)," where he skillfully played with the beat, giving the melody a sense of spontaneity.

He was also not averse to a few show-bizzy effects. At the end of the somber "Let Me Fall," he did indeed fall backward off the top of a staircase. During the rousing "You Raise Me Up," he was joined by members of the Clairemont High School Choir, which supplied harmonious support. And it didn't seem to matter much when Groban forgot some of the words to the wistful Simon & Garfunkel classic "America," which he sang as an encore.

Listeners were united by their enthusiasm. One concert-goer, Joanne Wyllie, made the six-hour drive from her home in Fresno.

"This concert is my birthday present to myself," said the married mother of three, who turns 35 today. She even brought along a fan letter for Groban that was written by her 11-year-old daughter.

Also appreciative was La Jolla resident Carol Carlisle.

"The way he delivers songs is so expressive and so captivating," said the Groban admirer, 58, who has two sets of his CDs one for her car, the other for her home. "I never get sick of him."

Meanwhile, Groban's fan base was well supplied with merchandise. On sale at the Sports Arena (in addition to $20 program booklets) were everything from jackets and hats to teddy bears and bumper stickers.