Groban's Voice Charms
Peoria Journal Star
March 4, 2005
By Brad Burke
I've seen Carver Arena at its most rowdy - those frequent nights when the rafters are rattled by monster trucks, metal bands or booze- and testosterone-fueled sports fans.

But all that was a distant memory inside the Peoria Civic Center on Wednesday, when a lanky, boyish 24-year-old with a voice the size of Texas turned the building's arena into his own version of an A&E Network concert special.

I refer to - who else? - Josh Groban, the young vocalist who has baffled music industry executives by selling millions of records without the aid of music videos, soda commercials or reality TV shows.

Nope, Groban's draw is just his plain old voice, although there's actually nothing plain nor old about it.

Before an adoring crowd of 7,900, Groban displayed the style and flair that has made him a bona fide superstar. He performed a nearly two-hour set that included a pair of encores, and he charmed the audience with his humble personality.

There's nothing humble, however, about his voice. It's so big it's almost theatrical. He precisely pronounces each word, be it in English or a foreign tongue, and he sustains phrases with a rich, polished vibrato.

His best songs were the most lush, from his romantic foreign-language ballads to vibrant, inspirational tracks like "You Raise Me Up."

On occasion, Groban attempted to rein in his voice for more understated material. The results were less successful. Groban's pipes are simply too powerful for traditional pop songs, and hearing him perform them was as unnatural as listening to an opera singer belt out a simplistic ditty like "Happy Birthday."

Case in point: For his first encore, Groban covered the Simon & Garfunkel classic "America." I give props to the young lad for his musical taste, but his mostly unwavering volume overpowered Paul Simon's tender melody throughout, leaving him little room to crescendo toward the song's trademark climax.

One may be able to question Groban's song selection, but there's no doubt this guy possesses a magnetic stage presence. His unyielding enthusiasm and boyish good looks - a baby face topped by wavy hair that spills down his cheeks like a bird's nest dangling to a tree branch - bewitched the audience. Groban seemed almost to flirt with individual fans by referencing specific seating sections and acknowledging several fawning cries of "I love you, Josh!"

And unlike many of the pop singers you'll find on MTV, Groban is an accomplished all-around musician. On occasion he would recede into the stage's shadowy corners only to emerge moments later behind a drum kit or a piano.

Instrumentation was the concert's prevalent theme. Trumpeter Chris Botti opened with a solid 40-minute set of smooth jazz punctuated now and again by some up-tempo numbers. And Groban's lead violinist, the hauntingly beautiful (and bare-foot) Lucia Micarelli, poured her heart into a series of furious, song-stealing solos.

Monster trucks and metal bands may rattle the rafters, but this A&E-esque special darn near blew the roof off.

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