Groban Pleases Adoring Fans With Unique Brand of Musical Epic
Naples News
January 28, 2005
By Nancy Stetson
Josh Groban is, quite simply, a phenomenon.

What else could make Southwest Floridians sit in a hockey rink and listen to a young baritone sing short operatic songs in Italian and Spanish?

Grobanites — fans of Josh Groban — who sold out Wednesday's concert at the Germain Arena in Estero, screamed and applauded after each song and constantly shouted out declarations of their love.

Groban is one of those young cross-genre artists, like Charlotte Church or Hayley Westerna. His music isn't exactly pop and it isn't exactly opera. It falls into that in-between category where it's both.

Even when he sings a pop song in English, such as Don McLean's "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)," his delivery is the same as though he were singing an operatic song in another language.

Groban's songs are dramatic, majestic things. If his songs were movies, they'd be big, long epics with a cast of thousands. There'd be dramatic partings, sweeping vistas, pageantry, parades and spectacle. In fact, when he sang "Remember" from the movie "Troy," battle scenes from the movie played on a screen behind him. It seemed fitting.

Groban was backed by a small orchestra and a five-piece band. The groups, representing Groban's two styles of music, sat on either side of the stage, sometimes playing together, sometimes taking turns.

Violinist Lucia Micarelli provided a number of passionate solos, at one point playing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" for a surprised and delighted audience. She received a standing ovation from the crowd every time she took centerstage.

At times Groban played keyboards, and even sat behind the drums for a spell.

"I love sad songs; I think they're more beautiful, more melodic," Groban declared. I suspect he likes them because they're overly dramatic, almost like soap operas set to music.

And after a while, his songs begin to sound dangerously alike, all rising to the same predictable climax.

There were many notable exceptions. His version of "To Where You Are," a tribute to the victims of Sept. 11 was moving, as was "Never Let Go."

A highlight of the concert was "Broken Vow," another sad song about love lost. But this one, with opening act Chris Botti providing a haunting trumpet accompaniment, was much more subtle and stirring.

One of Groban's best songs of the evening was a version of Simon and Garfunkel's "America," sung during his first encore, while accompanying himself on piano. He followed it up with the rousing "You Raise Me Up," with a 24-voice chorus helping out on the vocals.

Botti opened the concert with a superlative set that included "When I Fall in Love," "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "My Funny Valentine," all from his recent CD, "When I Fall In Love," which, he proudly announced, is the No.1-selling jazz CD in the U.S.

His version of "Someone to Watch Over Me" was sheer perfection, with Federico Peña and Jon Ossman providing great solos on keyboards and bass, respectively.

It was a creative set, and I found myself wishing I were seeing him perform in a more intimate setting. At the end, his talented band stretched out and jammed, with drummer Billy Kilson getting an opportunity to shine with a creative drum solo.

Equally as impressive, Botti spoke to the crowd about why kids should take dance and music lessons, and about the importance of parents taking children to see live music, to combat what they're hearing on MTV, VH-1 and "American Idol." I

f kids are just fed the musical equivalent of junk food with warmed-over covers of old hits, he said, they won't know quality music and will miss out.

I've heard musicians at other concerts complain about the sorry state of radio today, or the tyranny of the Top 40, but this was the first time I'd heard such an educated, intelligent plea for exposing the next generation to the arts. If Botti's wonderful craftsmanship hadn't already made me a fan, that little talk certainly would've.