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Smokey Robinson @ Potawatomi Bingo Casino

Dec. 8, 2011

Dec. 9, 2011
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Through his roles as songwriter, producer and, of course, performer, Smokey Robinson became one of the earliest and strongest forces shaping the Motown sound. The list of classic songs he had a hand in bringing to the radio, the charts and the hearts of listeners around the world is staggering, much too long to enumerate here, but suffice it to say that the man is a legend not just in soul music, but in American culture in general. The phrase "national treasure" is often bandied about erroneously, but Robinson has the Kennedy Center Honor to back it up, and he brought every bit of his passion and style to his performance Thursday night.

Taking the stage of Potawatomi Bingo Casino's almost unnervingly intimate Northern Lights Theatre, the former Miracles leader looked every bit the professional in his shiny, tailored suit, but as the night wore on, the jacket and tie came off, revealing a singer more concerned with feeling than flash, although you also couldn't exactly miss the blinged-out cross hanging around his neck either.  Much of his most classic Motown material, including "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," "Ooo Baby Baby" and a medley of hits he penned for The Temptations, showed up early on, before the set shifted into newer songs, pulled from his two most recent releases, Time Flies When You're Having Fun and Now and Then, the latter of which is, hilariously, only available from Cracker Barrel restaurants. Though classics like "Cruisin'" continued to be peppered in here and there, he probably could have dug into his back catalog a little deeper, but song selection seems a trifle when whatever tune he's singing, he completely owns it, including the Norah Jones hit "Don't Know Why." Beyond wowing the room with his still-amazing voice, Robinson is also a rather physical performer for a man of nearly 72, showing off a wide array of gyrations and pelvic thrusts, even if he couldn't quite keep up with the svelte dancing girls who occasionally emerged out of nowhere, each time in more absurd outfits.

But the music was only part of this superb show; of equal attraction was the between song banter which included a plethora of stories about the glory days of Motown, covering everything from his days roaming the country with the label's touring revues to writing with Stevie Wonder, which came complete with a head-waving, eyes-closed impression of the man himself. He's a funny, endlessly likable personality, displaying a charm honed over decades of working audiences. Robinson could have retired years ago, legacy firmly intact, but he continues to perform, seemingly just for the sheer pleasure of it, and that joy is infectious, just like every song he's given us in his illustrious, groundbreaking career. 


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