Singer Josh Groban Proves He’s a Class Act In Concert
July 30, 2004
By Michael Hochanadel
Josh Groban, 23-year-old king of “popera” or classical-pop, invited many, many of his subjects on Wednesday night into his lushly appointed royal chamber of big-voiced sentiment, otherwise known as the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
With just two chart-topping, richly orchestrated albums, Groban has precocious start-power: TV looks (confirmed by a recurring role on “Ally McBeal”) and appeal so broad he’s sung for America’s two most gender-specific audiences - :Oprah” and the Super Bowl.
His warm, strong, accurate baritone killed on both. The New York Times calls him the “new boy wonder of voice” his fans are “Groganites: and even skeptics acknowledge his gifts with the grudging tag “opera boy”. He’s so new that he noted, sympathizing with soaked fans, this was his first-ever show in the rain.
Starting on top
As with his career, Groban started at the top on Wednesday, on a vast, two-level video screen aglow with aquatic images for his opener “Oceano.”
His pop quintet played on one side of the stage, a locally recruited orchestra of strings, harp and French horns on the other, imparting a pumped grandeur to mostly midtempo, mostly majestic and mostly sad songs in Italian, Spanish and English.
Violinist Lucia Micarelli had a spotlight to herself and took over, while Groban changed clothes for a flashy solo that sandwiched mock-baroque tragedy around “Bohemian Rhapsody”, unconsciously parodying the whole popera thing but getting a standing ovation anyway.
Groban was a beautifully sounding, beautifully controlled instrument, scaling the heights of volume and emotion in dramatic song after dramatic song – the same songs, by the way he has sung all tour.
His technique is so carefully modulated he seldom moved the mike, though it seemed too refined in Don McLean’s “Vincent” where a more natural approach would have worked better. Paul Simon’s similarly wistful “Look for America” worked fine, however, as a solo encore at the piano. In big, brassy, heart-on-the-sleeve numbers – “Mi Mancherai,” Alejate” and especially “My December” were standouts – Groban delivered big, his fans devouring every note. The Hudson Falls High School Chorus joined in for “You Raise Me Up” raising the song and audience together.
Tightly laced into a black bustier, platinum blond saxophonist and singer (in that order), opening act Mindi Abair is to jazz what Groban, Andrea Bocelli and Charlotte Church are to classical music: She uses jazz sounds for pop effects as they use classical technique to sing pop. Alternately smoother and more rocking than smooth jazz, she showed off better chops than Kenny G, her solid band amping both funk muscle and ballad poignancy into her songs.
A big, heterogeneous crowd, well-dressed and largely women, filled the amphitheater and loyally held their places on the increasingly soggy lawn, at $27.50 to $75 a ticket. The production was expensively elegant in sound, lights and staging, a class act all the way.