Groban Delivers a Little Musical Romance
Journal Sentinel
February 20, 2005
By Gemma Tarlach
As Elvis Costello put it, what's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?

Those who dismiss Josh Groban as the schmaltz prince of popera are missing the point. Too classy to be pop and not serious enough to be opera, Groban nonetheless fills a void in music - and the adoring crowd at the U.S. Cellular Arena for his sold-out performance Saturday evening proved that there's a sizable audience, ranging in age from 12 to 80, hungry for a little innocuous musical romance.

But wait - full disclosure: I didn't get a penny from the Friends of Josh Groban fan club for this, and, if I had a choice, I would have preferred to be in the mosh pit at a Metallica show. So I'm being objective when I say Groban delivers, and kudos to him for it.

It's refreshing to see a twentysomething achieve fame by virtue of his voice rather than by oiling his abs on stage, lip-synching, getting shot nine times, winning a TV show contest or surviving the boy-band boom and subsequent bust.

Groban, dressed in a black suit and black shirt, did have some problems with the top notes early on in his show, particularly during "Mi Mancherai," one of the selections off 2003's "Closer," but for the most part, he belted out his particular meld of adult contemporary and nu-opera with take-notice power and expressiveness.

As a performer, Groban seems more comfortable in the spotlight now than he did in his earliest appearances. That's not to say he takes himself too seriously. It's hard to imagine, for example, Sarah Brightman donning a cheesehead wedge or mangling the "Laverne and Shirley" theme onstage.

Performing with a five-piece band and full string section, Groban also was assisted on stage by violinist Lucia Micarelli. The elf-like Micarelli injected a shot of wild energy into the sometimes too-subdued production, engaging in a passionate tango with her instrument.

Deadlines precluded a review of Groban's entire set.

Not everyone in the crowd seemed thrilled with opening act, jazz journeyman Chris Botti, but the guy can play, as can the sharp four-piece band he brought along, particularly drummer Billy Kilson. Botti's 40-minute set included "When I Fall in Love" and his Miles Davis tribute "My Funny Valentine," which Botti performed as a serenade to a comely young woman in the audience. But the most memorable moment of the trumpeter's performance might have been when he got out his soapbox briefly to call for the support of school band programs and an end to the instant celebrity, "American Idol" mentality dominating music today.

Amen to that.