Groban Delivers For Packed Arena With Inspiring, Intimate, Highly Entertaining Program
Grand Rapids Press
March 2, 2005
By Sue Merrell
Tuesday's sold out Josh Groban concert at Van Andel Arena had all the trappings of a pop event -- extravagant lighting effects, video footage and a backup band with two drum sets. Fans waved rainbow-colored light sticks and screamed their devotion.

But wait. Surely, this was a classical concert with a 16-piece string section dressed in conservative black, a grand piano and a set list with half the pieces in Italian, Spanish or French.

Nope, it's neither. It's just Josh.

The 24-year-old bottomless baritone defies classification. With more power and depth in his voice than in Sunday's Academy Awards performance, he presented a 17-song show that was inspiring, intimate and highly entertaining.

Though groups of female fans screamed loudly, most of the crowd was made up of couples basking in the glow of Groban's somewhat schmaltzy songs.

He energized the house with his soaring opening number, "Oceano." Then he wooed them with the tender "Mi Mancherai," lovingly staged as an echoing duet between Groban and violinist Lucia Micarelli. Then he turned wild for "Canto Alla Vita," a Groban triple play with the singer pounding out the eerie opening on a synthesizer, then crooning a few inspiring choruses and ending with his spirited drum solo.

Only one of the foreign-language songs, "Caruso," had subtitles flashed on the screen, and that song includes a phrase meaning "words are just confusing." The passion in Groban's voice doesn't need translation.

Between songs, Groban worked the crowd better than most veteran performers, running from one side of the stage to the other to shake hands and responding to shouts from the crowd with relaxed banter and a variety of endearing, cartoon-character voices. "You rock my socks," he parroted back to shouting fans.

One of the most powerful pieces of the evening was Groban's own "Remember When it Rained," which he presented at the piano, with rain effects in the background. The psychedelic ending with bursts of tie-dye colors, however, was more distracting than enhancing.

Other highlights included a relaxing rendition of "Vincent," Don McLean's ballad to Vincent van Gogh; "To Where You Are," a tribute to the victims of 9/11; and the inspiring anthem "You Raise Me Up" featuring 24 choir members from Forest Hills Central High School.

Trumpeter Chris Botti and a four-piece band opened with a 50-minute jam session that ranged from rock intensity to some lyrical, romantic tunes such as "When I Fall in Love" and "Someone to Watch Over Me." Botti teased the audience that television "Insider" Pat O'Brien had just announced the end of Botti's relationship with "Today" show Katie Couric, which he quipped was a hard way to find out what was going on in his life.