Groban Headlines Season’s ‘Date Concert’
July 29, 2004
By Mike Curtin
If Josh Groban didn’t exist, someone would have to invent him. In any era when many listeners yearn for the calming balm of music, no less in these times when a trip around the radio dial becomes a full-frontal sensory assault.
Into the breach comes a good-looking young adult with all the right references --- Oprah, Rosie, “Ally McBeal”, and the staid gray lady that Public Broadcasting has become. Add a winning mix of familiar pop and classical selections, and an angelic voice, and “voila”, over 10 million records sold worldwide and a star whose appeal spans generations.
The audiences that Groban drew to his concert Wednesday at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, ranged in age from 8 to 80. It was a largely female gathering, but with many of the opposite sex in attendance for this “date show” of the season, neither the gridlock intensified by the departing crowds from the first day at the Saratoga Race Course, nor the evening’s drenching rainstorm, could keep fan and performer apart.
Groban was hardly the image of the classic prima donna. Initially clad in a black sweater, and displaying an engaging self-depreciation, there was not a hint of pretension to his performance. Backed by a 15-piece orchestra, a rock quartet, and individual soloists who straddled both classical and contemporary forms, (including first violinist Lucia Micarelli’s brief journey into Queen’s bombastic “Bohemian Rhapsody”), Groban displayed a vaunting vocal prowess, and command of his material, whether singing in Spanish, Italian or English.
Ruminative pieces like “This is My December” and “Remember When It Rained” were replete with his singular sense of drama that rarely lapsed into pure affection.
On the finale of “You Raise Me Up”, a variation on the traditional Irish lament, “Londonderry Air”, better known as “Danny Boy”, he was backed by the Hudson Falls High School Choraliers, who lined the stairway on either side of the headliner.
A tender encore of Paul Simon’s “America”, done to spare piano accompaniment, lacked inherent sweetness that Simon’s partner, Art Garfunkel, brought to the original version, but it was a game effort nonetheless.
The concert’s high point came earlier, on Groban’s commanding rendition of “Caruso.” With the poignant Italian lyrics cast overhead, this tale of eternal love literally separated by an ocean, was retold with impressive power and passion.
Opening was singer/saxophonist Mindi Abair, who showcased tracks from her two GRP recordings, “It Just Happens That Way” and the soon to be released “Come As You Are”. A diminutive dirty blond with beach blanket looks, her playing and singing were hardly reminiscent of the last days of John Coltrane or the second coming of Billie Holliday. Still, her half hour set was a pleasant, if insubstantial, idyll before the headliner, her mannered brand of “smooth jazz”, enhanced by the lock-step precision of her backing quartet.