'Close' to Perfect: Groban Grabs the Audience But Holds on Too Long
Dallas Morning News
August 14, 2004
By Mario Tarradell
At his most affecting, Josh Groban uses his stunning, soaring voice to ride a wave of strings, percussion, piano and guitars. Armed with a climactic song, the kind that slowly builds to a thunderous chorus, he can showcase every nuance of his pipes.

That was the very effect of "Oceano," his opening number Friday night at Smirnoff Music Centre. Engulfed by video footage of a rippling sea and crashing waves, the curly-topped young man exercised his power to sweep you off your chair. It's actually amazing that the crowd of 16,500 stayed seated throughout most of the show. This wasn't the usual Smirnoff crowd, for sure.

Then again, Mr. Groban isn't your run-of-the-mill singer. At a mere 23, his voice is remarkably mature. Almost effortlessly, he could tackle adult pop, Broadway tunes, and classical and operatic pieces. In three years, he's emerged as the new prince of classical pop, selling 7 million copies of his two studio albums, 2001's Josh Groban and 2003's Closer.

In concert, there's a distinct impression that Mr. Groban isn't really aware of his extraordinary gift. His between-song chatter seems personable, nice and awkward even. But in a good way. He could be the unassuming guy next door.

Yet let him open his mouth and watch your perception of him change dramatically. He sounded equally comfortable belting the beautiful "Mi Moncherai," which began with a lovely violin solo, and then swooning the synthesizer-driven "Canto Alla Vita." That latter cut morphed into a mini-jam session that featured Mr. Groban on drums. It's one of few songs in his short catalog with a rhythmic, rocking edge.

Therein lies the only problem with his canon. Essentially, the bulk of his material seems structurally similar. Just about every song starts quietly, then diligently climbs to the inevitable swooshing chorus before it comes back down to almost a whisper. It doesn't matter whether he's singing in French, Italian, Spanish or English.

On record, that could get monotonous. Closer, for example, suffers from too much padding. It clocks in at more than an hour; a disc desperately in need of some editing. But in concert, where you get the visuals of the string section, the band, the video images and Mr. Groban, whose everyday kid demeanor comes off quite endearing, the shortcoming is minimized.

Plus, you got to give him credit for diving head first into all those languages. When he sang "Alejate," a lush love song complete with Spanish guitar, his enunciation sounded perfect. Some Latin crooners don't pronounce the words as clearly as Mr. Groban. But he knows his voice is his instrument, and he plays it well.

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