Translation: Groban's Great
Sioux City Journal
March 25, 2005
By Bruce R. Miller
On the Planet Groban, few songs are sung in English, fans routinely rush the stage and Josh is a lot more fun than you'd think.

At the Tyson Events Center Thursday night, Josh Groban closed his latest tour with a two-hour performance that was long on production value, long on sustained notes and long on banter. What came up short? Translations -- oh boy, translations.

Because Groban sings a heap of Italian, Spanish, French -- you name it -- numbers, it's often unclear what he's singing. He sounds good, though, because he has a strong, confident voice that never betrays him. His vibrato is pretty noticeable, too. And when he does something like "Caruso" (shown Thursday with titles on a rear screen), the effect is thrilling.

The English songs? They made the experience even more worthwhile.

Huge screens helped set the mood (water rolling for "Oceano," for example) and a full orchestra made him look like the star attraction at a PBS fund-raiser.

Groban offered up the hits, too, (singing "I'll Raise You Up" with the Blessed Sacrament Celebration Choir) and brought out opener Chris Botti to duet on "Broken Vow," a touching piece about lost love.

Still, the sadness that permeates Groban's music was cut routinely by the 24-year-old's banter with the audience. The surprise? He ad libs well and has great fun with the female fans called the "Grobanites." Following him around the country, some were at the tour's first concert in Boise, Idaho. They gave him everything from goofy oversized glasses to Pixie Stix. Many got hugs in return. One even offered a T-shirt that commemorated the "Boise to Sioux City" trek. Groban ran from one side of the stage to the other, admitting he was not "cool enough to ignore things" fans might give him.

He changed clothes twice during the evening and gave his concertmaster Lucia Micarelli a solo turn that was outstanding. (No surprise, then, that he's producing her first album.) She added an ethereal touch to the show and helped foster the "Groban as God" image. The set -- full of lucite steps -- looked as lush as the rest of the show.

Botti, meanwhile, was more casual, doing his version of jazz trumpet in an opening set that was nearly 45 minutes long. He did plenty of standards and offered a tribute to Miles Davis with "My Funny Valentine." Botti, too, was pretty laid back when he talked, all business when he was playing.

Together, he and Groban are a good match (heck, Botti even let Groban's stylist sing "What'll I Do").

Interestingly, neither is a Top 40 pop star -- yet both have the kind of fans that once were reserved for one-named singers like Elvis.

Groban's lure is his pure tone. Couple that with music and lyrics that have hidden meaning and the result is magic.

While he sang it early on, one of the closing night's most effective numbers was "To Where You Are," a tribute to the victims of 9/11. That killer vibrato came out and gave it the depth such a song deserves.

Groban's future? Brighter than bright. Considering he can do a mean "Field of Dreams" impression (yup, he offered that up, too), he might just be the next singing film star.

Our only hope? The film has subtitles. Trying to figure out what he's singing without the help is murder.