Better Late Than Never: Groban Charms MetroCentre Crowd
Rockford Register Star
March 25, 2005
By Melissa Westphal
Josh Groban cracked a few smiles, made a few jokes, sang some beautiful songs and likely made about 7,000 new friends at Rockford's MetroCentre Wednesday night, March 23.

That's how likable the 24-year-old singer was. Even if his music isn't your thing, it's difficult to resist his goofball charm. He's your everyday guy disguised in a suit and tennis shoes, belting out opera-esque songs on a stage in front of thousands.

A bevy of screaming fans, nicknamed "Grobanites" and ranging in age from grandmas to pre-teens, would tell you he's the best thing since sliced bread.

They kept Groban entertained Wednesday night with their cries of "I love you Josh" from the first 20 rows on the floor. They treated him like a rock star, snapping pictures and bombarding him with gifts ranging from a stuffed rabbit to an exotic pair of skimpy underwear.

Groban took the stage around 9 p.m. after a solid opening performance by jazz trumpet player Chris Botti. Accompanied by a 16-piece orchestra and a five-piece band, Groban performed a 15-song set and two encores that included a mix of tunes from his 2001 self-titled album and 2003's "Closer."

His baritone voice was rich, shining and flawless on several difficult songs written long before his time in Italian, French and Spanish. Half the tunes he performed Wednesday night were not in English.

Groban spent most of the show dressed in a black pinstripe suit, with a black button-down shirt and black and white Adidas tennis shoes. His scruffy starterbeard and famous curly mop added to his casual look.

Halfway through the show, he ditched the suit for a black shirt and jeans.

Groban endeared himself to the crowd right away. After his first two songs, he apologized for canceling the first show, which originally was scheduled in February and was postponed because Groban performed at the live Academy Awards telecast that weekend.

The singer also ribbed the Grobanites, saying all their "I love you's" were making him "gag a little." He also joked about his five-o'clock shadow, saying "there's something about being in the cold that makes you not want to shave -- ever."

Standout songs included a beautiful rendition of "Mi Mancherai" with violin soloist Lucia Micarelli. Micarelli was featured on a number of tunes, and sat barefoot in front of the orchestra for most of the show.

Also noteworthy was a dark and powerful cover of the Linkin Park song, "My December," which was thick with electric guitar. Groban performed his hit "To Where You Are," a poignant ballad that talks about a lost loved one, first heard on the TV show "Ally McBeal." Other songs from Wednesday's show included "You Raise Me Up," which featured a performance by the local Allen Chapel choir, "Remember," from the movie "Troy," and a cover of the Paul Simon tune, "America."

Opener Chris Botti joined Groban midway through the show on the song, "Broken Vow." The 42-year-old performed a six-song set that included the title track from his 2004 release, "When I Fall in Love."

The handsome Botti entertained the crowd for about 45 minutes with his trumpet work, strongly supported by a four-piece band that included borrowed Sting drummer Keith Carlock. Botti has toured with both Sting and Paul Simon.

Botti commended the audience for seeking out a show that wasn't somehow tied to MTV or "American Idol." He encouraged parents to bring their kids to see live music, saying that too many children are idolizing pop stars such as Usher without learning to appreciate the love and craft of music. Botti also signed CDs for fans after his set.

The Groban-Botti tour came to an end Thursday in Sioux City, Iowa. Groban is expected to head back to the studio for work on his third album (two live albums also have been released). At Wednesday's show, a pair of Grobanites shouted a request for Groban to accompany them to their prom on May 14. With a laugh and his endearing smile, Groban gave them an honest answer:

"These are our last two shows. We'll be looking for things like proms to do.