Groban's Deep Voice Takes Center Stage
August 12, 2004
By C.E. Hanifin
Josh Groban made his entrance Tuesday in the style of an old-fashioned crooner, descending a backlit staircase that sliced through the center of the stage.
It was a fitting start, since throughout the show the singer projected the type of "aw, shucks" charm reminiscent of an era long before pop stars had their own reality shows and signature perfumes.
OK, so Groban didn't really say "Aw, shucks" during his performance at Riverbend Music Center. What he actually uttered was "Aw, you guys," after the audience rewarded him with one of many standing ovations.
And he answered the numerous shrieks of "I love you!" by returning the endearment and remarking, "I wish I had something great to do or say when someone says 'I love you,' like an 'I love you' dance or something."
With self-effacing banter and a high-powered smile, Groban captivated the crowd of about 10,000. Of course, he could have done that with his celebrated baritone alone. The audience sat mesmerized through numbers sung in Italian, English and, for one flamenco-flavored number, Spanish. A theatricality that betrayed Groban's classical roots infused the entire production.
Although Groban shared the stage with violin virtuoso Lucia Micarelli, a piano player, a guitarist, a bassist, two drummers and an orchestra, his deep, rich voice took center stage for most of the evening. Micarelli's pining violin made an excellent match for Groban's vocals, especially during one duet in which the two took turns alone in the spotlight, literally - one stood in darkness while the other performed. At the end of the song, violin and voice came together for a crescendo that caused some in the audience to visibly swoon in their seats.
A few moments of playfulness brought levity to a set weighted with soaring choruses and operatic climaxes. Micarelli veered from a delicate aria to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," and Groban ended one number by borrowing a drummer's sticks and bashing away.
Along with songs from his two albums, Groban included in his set a pair of American folk classics, but his rigidly traditional voice glossed over the emotion central to each. The singer's crisp vocals on Don McLean's "Vincent" were more evocative of the piercing china-blue eyes of Van Gogh's self portraits than the delirious painted swirls of "Starry Starry Night." And his sharp enunciation on "America" lacked the shambling soul and aching heart of the Simon and Garfunkel original.
Groban's passionate take on the Italian standard "Caruso," however, eloquently captured the heartbreaking tale told by the lyrics (which were projected behind the stage for those in the crowd not fluent in Italian). He admitted to the audience, "I've always been attracted to sadder songs." And that's fitting, as well, for a performer who's not too self-conscious to clutch his microphone to his heart with both hands.