Monday, February 10, 2020

I Second That Emotion: Soon Turning 80, Smokey Robinson Remains a Miracle -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Smokey Robinson
Chicago Theatre
February 7, 2020

No offense to anyone who views spirituality solely through traditional constructs, but for me, seeing Smokey Robinson was a religious experience.

To begin with, Smokey is a godlike figure in the annals of popular music.

While still a Detroit teenager in the 1950s he formed The Miracles and dazzled Berry Gordy Jr. with his prodigious songwriting talent.

Gordy would record the Miracles’ first song—“Got a Job”—and soon founded the record label that would become known as Motown.

The Miracles were one of the first acts signed, and their “Shop Around” (written by Robinson and Gordy) was the first Motown single.

Suffice it to say that Robinson was instrumental in creating “the Motown sound,” as he would write several indelible hit singles that he recorded with the Miracles, plus numerous others for acts on the label, most notably the Temptations. He even became Motown's VP by the mid-1960s.

As still on brilliant display Friday night, Smokey possesses one of the most angelic singing voices
ever, which on the opening “Being With You”—one of several solo hits he had after the Miracles split—brought chills even before the curtain raised.

If I didn’t have binoculars from my seat atop the upper balcony at the sumptuous Chicago Theatre, I easily could’ve believed Robinson—dapper as ever in a sleek white suit, adding to my sacrosanct sensibilities—was on the cusp of turning 40, not 80, as he’ll become on February 19.

Aptly, as the show’s second song, he sang—quite divinely—“I Second That Emotion.”

Then came “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” a Miracles song so good the Beatles covered it.

Robinson’s passionate, velvety vocals on an elongated “Ooo Baby Baby” proved—though I didn’t really expect too much more—that this wasn’t just an aging legend collecting a paycheck; Smokey was truly smokin'.

Erudite as ever, he spoke of "growing up" via shows at Chicago’s old Regal Theater, and in enlightening about Motown Revue tours of old, talked of having written for the Temptations before doing “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Get Ready” and “My Girl” as a medley, with the latter pretty much in full.

Plus two brief reprises.

Accompanied by five ace musicians and a trio of female singers, Smokey was sentimental, deferential, humorous and—repeatedly showing some dance moves—even sexual.

He spoke of speaking to his close friend Stevie Wonder just a couple days prior and reported that—following a kidney transplant—Wonder is doing well

After humorously sharing some anecdotes including that Stevie “drives too fast for me,” Smokey cracked up onstage when a patron asked “He does?” 

Speaking affectionately about his blind-yet-brilliant Motown mate led into their #1 collaboration, “Tears of a Clown,” with the likewise resplendent “Tracks of My Tears” coming a few songs later.

You can see the setlist here, with one song you may not recognize being “La Mirada,” a new one Smokey recorded for an upcoming Spanish EP. He shared that he’s been learning the language in recent years. (Hear the song on his website here.)

Closing the show was the 1979 solo hit, “Cruisin’,” but Smokey didn’t just sing it and saunter off into the night. Rather he turned it into a 20-minute audience singalong, bringing two fans onstage to lead a battle between both halves of the theater.

I’m not sure if my side won, but regardless it was a rather remarkable night.

Sure, the 90-minute show without an opening act wasn’t as quantitative as Springsteen, McCartney, Pearl Jam, etc., and in direct comparison as a "rock concert," not as qualitative.

But Smokey Robinson—who I was seeing for the first time, largely out of reverence, as I recently had legends like Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Cher and, a few years ago, the late Aretha Franklin—was every bit as good I could’ve wanted him to be, presumably ever.

He sang great songs, Miraculously.

He told engaging stories that befit his towering history.

He danced. He looked terrific. He smiled a lot. He was warm and appreciative.

And like the best shows, his acutely made me feel fantastic.

Not just about being there, or seeing him, but about myself.

If that’s not worthy of worship, I’m not sure what is.

1 comment:

Hemingway1955 said...

Wow! What an example of successful aging! Hope springs eternal.