Smokey Robinson at Walker Theatre, Nov. 8

 

It must be something to be an artist so loved that your audience feels they own you to the point of devouring your every word. That's the way it was for Smokey Robinson Saturday night during a packed show at the Walker Theatre. The audience sang along to virtually every song, to the point of over-anticipating their idol's creative phrasing on what turned out to be the evening's highlight: a transcendent reworking of "Tracks of My Tears."

Not that Robinson seemed to mind. Indeed, he egged the audience on, turning his performance into a colossal group hug. And why not? It's not often you find yourself in the presence of royalty. Though relatively little fuss is made over Smokey Robinson compared to his fellow giants in the pop pantheon, a gloss of his catalog makes it abundantly clear that the gentleman has had as big an impact on our collective cultural DNA as anyone - ever. Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas put it mildly when she observed, referring to Robinson and his seminal '60s band: "In Liverpool they have a statue of the Beatles. Someplace in Detroit there should be a statue of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles."

Robinson has not only been a prolific songwriter. He's also a formidable performer. Though pushing 70, he's not only in great shape, but great voice, that silky falsetto heart-stoppingly intact.

Robinson brought a Vegas-style show to the Walker, complete with go-go girls, which, at times, came close to overwhelming the theater's technical capacity and making exits for costume changes (including a pair of green sequined trousers - whew!) a little awkward. But this also compelled Smokey to get down with his fans, by turns reaching out to the audience and, ultimately, inviting select members on stage.

If, at times, the medleys of hits might have seemed a tad perfunctory, there were still awesome moments where Robinson seemed insistent on finding yet deeper veins in his personal gold mine. His phrasing during "The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage" was brilliant and then, as if he still had something to prove, Robinson's "Tracks of My Tears" brought the heavens down.

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