Josh Groban Dazzles at Dodge Theatre
East Valley Tribune
May 13, 2004
By Thomas Bond
You know you've hit the big time when your musical style is given its own name, “popera” in the case of 23-year-old singer Josh Groban.
Sure, Sarah Brightman and others may have been crooning romantic pop with swishy operatic flourishes in multiple languages before him, but make no mistake, Groban owns this genre. He sang at this year's Super Bowl and his sophomore album, “Closer,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts.
More than making up for a show he canceled here in February, Groban's wonderfully expressive voice and effortless charm dazzled a sold-out Dodge Theatre crowd that showered him with several standing ovations.
“He was terrific. The show exceeded my expectations,” said Jeffrey Wildin, 39, of Paradise Valley.
Opening with “Oceano” and “My Confession,” tracks one and two of “Closer,” the audience was entranced from the get-go. Alluding to his cancellation, the dashing young singer clad in black pants and shirt said “wonderful, beautiful, patient Phoenix — it's great to finally be here.”
And his performance was worth the wait. Groban's voice is truly a thing of beauty, gliding easily from a rich baritone to a crystalline tenor and back again, often within the same song. While the tunes he chooses to record and perform are often laden with treacly sentiments, cloying lyrics and congested musical arrangements, his vocals cut through it all and elevate the maudlin material to majesty.
As befits his “popera” label, Groban was backed by 21 musicians with strings and brass instruments on one side of a central staircase and the pop/rock musicians on guitar, bass, drums, percussion and piano on the other.
Concert master and lead violinist Lucia Micarelli, barefoot and sultry in a black dress, was a passionate foil to the more demure singer. On “Mi Mancherai (Il Postino),” she put Groban through his paces as he vocally answered phrases of notes she played on her violin. Later in the show when the singer ducked offstage for a clothing change, Micarelli earned a standing ovation of her own with a fiery violin medley that included a portion of Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Following “Aléjate” in awkwardly-phrased Spanish, Groban launched into “Let Me Fall,” and then took the title literally by dropping backward and out of sight from the platform above the staircase at center stage.
Strangely, a 20-minute intermission was then announced though Groban had scarcely been onstage for twice that amount of time. Operas may be divided into different acts, but not pop concerts and this break came at a point in the show when the singer just seemed to be hitting his stride.
When the houselights dimmed, Groban returned in a maroon shirt and jeans singing “Alla Luce dal Sole.” No fewer than seven of the seventeen songs he performed were sung in Italian, but his use of the language is studiously phonetic rather than freely flowing as from the mouth of someone fluent in the romance tongue. That's but a small quibble and can't diminish the fact that he's succeeded in selling songs in foreign languages to the generally monolingual American public. I still can't shake the impression though that his fans adore the idea of their hero serenading them in italiano or español more than the actual songs, which are as sickeningly syrupy as his English ones.
Highlights of the second set included “My December,” the first tune on which Groban seemed to be really reaching into his gut for emotional and vocal resonance, and “Remember When It Rained,” a song he co-wrote and performed while playing a grand piano.
Don McLean's “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” was, perhaps, the best song of the night as Groban performed it with only violin and acoustic guitar accompaniment. The simple arrangement stood in stark contrast to the musical bombast that marked every other tune and let the greatness of the singer's voice shine unfettered.
It's good that his voice is so powerful and enchanting because Groban's stage presence is virtually non-existent. For the most part, he stood in one place and sang or walked slowly up and down steps and sang. That said, the singer is endearingly charming. After chiding his guitarist for wearing leather pants in the heat of Phoenix, he paused a beat and then said “I left mine at home” to much laughter.
Groban's tousled good looks, vocal prowess and sense of humor certainly had hearts a-flutter in the audience.
“I love him. I used four of his songs in my wedding, but I'd leave my husband for him!” said Stephanie Anderson, 24, of Chandler.
Groban closed with his Super Bowl song, the inspirational anthem “You Raise Me Up,” on which he was joined by members of Scottsdale's Saguaro High School choir. After that rousing number, the encore of “Gira con Me” was strictly an afterthought.
Un Amore per Sempre
Mi Mancherai (Il Postino)
To Where You Are
Let Me Fall
Alla Luce dal Sole
Remember When It Rained
Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)
You Raise Me Up
Gira con Me