Smokey Robinson graced Philadelphia’s Mann Music Center with his presence on Sunday evening, playing a career-spanning set list that touched on different phases of his singular songwriting career. The 72-year-old Robinson performed both his work with Motown as well as his impressive run as a solo artist by including several of his own classic pieces, a handful of covers, and some new material as well.
The audience at the Mann was warmed up by the veteran comedian Sinbad, who played well to the primarily older crowd as he jested on politics, marriage, and parenting with his well-tested material in a 43-minute dialogue.
Backed by an amazing band that was uniformly clad in white suits and a pair of extraneous dancers, Robinson essentially divided the two-hour, five-minute set into two halves. The first segment was heavily skewed towards his Motown catalog while the second leaned more towards his later material. After opening with the snappy “Going to a Go-Go,” Robinson veered into his vast array of work with Motown.
Of his Miracles material, none was more impressive than a spine-tingling “Ooh Baby, Baby,” where he delivered a breathtaking performance of the 1965 hit. Unfortunately, his songs with The Temptations were limited to a brisk medley of “Get Ready” and “The Way You Do The Things You Do” before he launched into a take of “My Girl” which garnered considerable audience participation. Robinson also regaled those in attendance with the story of how Stevie Wonder handed him the music for “Tears of a Clown,” including an infectious mimic of the legend’s movement.
Midway through the show, Robinson paused singing his original material to cover the standard “Fly Me To The Moon” and Jesse Harris’ “Don’t Know Why” before his band showed off their well-honed abilities during a lengthy jam of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” As his musicians showed off, Robinson used that time to change into a pair of leather pants and a black vest which sparkled in the stage lights. The singer spent much of the second half of the show digging deep into his solo career and whipping out a pair of well-received new songs as he gyrated with a noticeable flair.
As the clock sneaked past 11:00 PM, Robinson drew the show to a close with one of his best songs, “Track of My Tears,” and “Cruisin’,” where he divided the audience into halves as they soulfully belted out the chorus “I love it when we’re crusinin’ together” at his direction.
Without question, the depth of Robinson’s catalog speaks for itself, but perhaps the ultimate testament of the impact of his songwriting can be felt by listening to the audience at his concerts. The crowd at the Mann sang along throughout most of the show and in some instances drowned out the band. 40-plus years after Robinson ruled the charts, he still tugs at people’s souls, and that is true definition of timeless.
Smokey Robinson currently has intermittent tour dates that will take him across the U.S. through April 2013, including stops in Englewood, York, and Wilmington. On September 21st and 22nd, he will perform a one-man show at the El Portal Theater in Los Angeles.
*One note to the woman who sounded as you were giving birth to a cow while you obnoxiously called for “Cruisin’” throughout a decent portion of the show, including during “Tracks of My Tears.” Smokey is going to play what Smokey is going to play and he can’t hear you when you are three sections back. Unfortunately, everyone else could and you made yourself look like an ass.