Friday Night: Smokey Robinson At Arena Theatre

Smokey Robinson Arena Theatre May 13, 2011

If William "Smokey" Robinson wasn't America's poet laureate of love, he would have thrived in a number of other fields.

Smokey would make a solid con man, for instance. Friday night at Arena Theatre, he kicked off his show with a deceptively shaky performance of "Going To a Go-Go," followed by a deceptively shaky performance of "I Second That Emotion." What the packed crowd didn't realize was that he was simply warming up his vocals with the Motown hits.

It was as if the stiff start was his way of saying to us, "Yes, I know you have preconceived notions about this 71-year old guy. I know you expect my voice to crack the entire night, and that's fine, really. But just to let you know, you're now in for a wild ride. Starting with the next song and for the next 124 minutes, I'm going to do things that will shatter all your misconceptions about me."

And who are you to argue with the man who wrote "My Girl," energized Motown, and styled an entire genre?

With his first three songs out of the way, Smokey ripped his tie loose and gave his buttery-smooth voice room to breathe. Now perfectly warmed up and eager to impress, he plunged into a billowing rendition of "Ooh Baby Baby" so smooth it had the ladies screaming and the fellas entranced. After he was done belting out those silky smooth notes, a thunderous ovation filled the arena and continued for a while.

"Well, I guess that's it," Smokey teased. "We should have played that one first."

If he ever tires of making panty-dropping music, Smokey should consider a career as a stand-up comedian or a musical raconteur. In between songs, he entertained the Arena Place crowd with yarns about the good ol' Motown Days.

"Back then," he said," you could see The Temptations, The Marvelettes, The Supremes, and The Miracles for $1.50. I don't think we have that anymore."

He was with Motown Records from the beginning, so he had plenty of tales about The Temps and Berry and Marvin and Stevie. Especially Stevie. Smokey recalled a "true story" about Stevie Wonder pitching him a song idea at a party. So eager was Stevie to get started on the song that he supposedly offered to drive Smokey to the studio immediately.

"I declined," joked Smokey, "He drives much too fast for me, sometimes while texting." The crowd exploded in laughter.

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