Groban Is Delightfully Deep, a Josh of All Tongues
Courier & Press
March 10, 2005
By Philip Elliott
The audience wasn't certain what exactly Josh Groban was singing Wednesday night, but the translation didn't matter. For them, everything they needed to know came from the voice.

Groban, the baritone with a an unmatched voice, offered a powerful - if over the top - show. He weaved classics with contemporary works, appealing to the multigeneration audience's ears. If classical vocal music had a rock star, it would be Josh Groban.

From his opening "Oceano" to his delicately delicious encore of Paul Simon's "America," Groban proved why, at 24, he is already a major force in music. The effortless power in his voice brought the 6,025 people in the crowd at Roberts Stadium out of their chairs.

The decidedly non-MTV, anti-"American Idol" icon moved among French, English, Italian and Spanish without pause. "Per Te," a driving ballad with as much percussion as vocals, bridged the chasm between formal and rock. And once established, Groban sprinted across that proverbial bridge repeatedly, drawing from "Il Postino," Linkin Park and everything between.

At times, the eclectic selections sounded forced. For instance, the Spanish guitar-infused "Mi Morena" seemed more fitting for Rob Thomas than this baritone. His quasi-falsetto seemed far more fitting for Justin Timberlake than this scruffy, shaggy siren.

Groban sustained interest with his "aw-shucks" charm that seemed counter to his mature tone. As the scores of Grobanites shrieked "I love you, Josh," he echoed his love for the fans.

Still, the show was fraught with over-the-top theatrics. A light show befitting 'N Sync distracted from Groban's velvety voice. He visited electric piano, grand piano and percussion to proudly perform, as if his vocal prowess wasn't enough.

Violinist Lucia Micarelli, whose album Groban also produced, served as concertmaster for the 16-piece orchestra on stage. Her solo opportunities, however, showcased the piercing violin she wields. Her "Bohemian Rhapsody" shredded through the air, inflicting yet another orchestral version of Queen - as if there were a shortage. Still, she worked her violin in a way Freddie Mercury would applaud.

The true instrumentalist of the night was played by Chris Botti, Groban's opening act. His sound swept through the venue with such force, it's unclear if he even needed the microphone for his trumpet.

His too-brief jazz set seemed more fitting for the Blue Note than Evansville. Yet the audience responded to the passionate trumpet and its musician with his ripped jeans.

His rendition of "When I Fall in Love" quickly faded from the low-key saunter to the high-energy, almost rock 'n' roll-style cover.

His set swung between funk and fusion to soul to classics. His take on Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" should offend the purists, but its fresh approach quelled the righteous rage. Like Jamie Cullum's cover of "It Ain't Necessarily So," Botti took the genius and structured his own piece around it.

Likewise, "My Funny Valentine" employed such soft touches from his lips, even the high, often-coarse notes melted. He allowed his talented band to shine as well, offering them center stage. At one point, Botti walked to the side and sat on a speaker.

Still, the keyboard parts felt hollow, a symptom of using electronic substitutes. His guitarist fancied himself a Carlos Santana, but Santana he was not.

But Botti's guest performance on Groban's "Broken Vow" renewed faith in fundamentals. Even when performing about cheating lovers, the conversation is polite, polished and perfect.