Josh Groban Belongs on Broadway
Star Tribune
August 10, 2007
By Jon Bream
Doing a little rock, a little pop and faux classical, the high-browed heartthrob thrilled his audience at the Xcel.

Forget about the classically trained baritone voice, the Andrea Bocelli comparisons and the Old World romance songs rendered in Romance languages. Josh Groban is just a rock star disguised in Phantom of the Popera facade. "Thanks for making my album Number 1. Does anybody do that anymore?" Groban asked 13,000 faithful on Friday night at Xcel Energy Center. "That sounds like Journey in 1987."

Then he broke into Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," on grand piano.

"Would you mind if I did karaoke the rest of the night?" He did a little Bon Jovi followed by Elton John. "I suppose you paid to hear my music."

So the powerhouse baritone eased into "Remember When It Rained," which built to a crescendo that Journey's Steve Perry's couldn't touch. No question, Groban, 26, has an emotionally powerful voice.

When he got in touch with his inner rock star, Groban was at his best. Some of his foreign-language romance numbers seemed stiff as he rushed from one selection to the next. When he relaxed, ignored the TelePrompTers and relished performing in an arena, he was a fun, approachable cheeseball.

For "In Her Eyes," Groban started singing at the back of the arena and made his way to the stage, singing and slapping hands like a political candidate. So what if his speech, ur, song was flowery and overwrought? (Actually, all his attempts at pop songs, including the Peter Gabriel-like "Machine," the Dave Matthews-composed "Lullaby" and the Five for Fighting-composed "February Song," sounded overbaked.)

When he dueted with opening act Afropop star Angelique Kidjo on Sade's "Pearls," Groban sang with genuine emotion instead of faux-classical formalism. A bit during which Kidjo tried to teach the rhythm-impaired Groban to dance showed him to be hilariously human.

He hit new heights of aw-shucks stardom when dozens of autographing-seeking women -- and a 4-year-old boy -- congregated at his feet. Though he said he felt like Mr. Rogers surrounded by his neighbors, he turned in the night's best vocal on "Not While I'm Around" from "Sweeney Todd," proving his voice is best suited for Broadway.

But he insists on doing some faux classical, some foreign-language romance, a little rock, a lot of pop, a little dancing, a little drum solo, a little karaoke as well as a little Broadway. In the end, his two-hour, crowd-thrilling performance felt like "High School Musical" for adults.