About halfway into Smokey Robinson’s performance on an idyllic end of summer evening at Ravinia (where he last appeared in 1989), the enduring entertainer recalled the era when anyone could see The Temptations, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Gladys Knight & The Pips and his own group The Miracles all on the same “Motown Revue” bill for a mere dollar-and-a-half! Times and prices have certainly changed in the more than five decades since then, but the quality of the singer/songwriter’s voice in 2017 may as well have been those days all over again.
Though the audience’s participation would return at numerous points of the night, Smokey Robinson ruled “Quiet Storm” and “Ooo Baby Baby” all by himself, taking a much slower route on the latter than the original record, but coming across as smooth as silk.
While Robinson lamented that some of those superstars are no longer here, the fact that he’s still going strong as a performer and storyteller at 77-years-old is commendable. Sure, he could’ve probably chatted less and slid in a couple more timeless tunes, but the legend addressed the bulk of his major chart-toppers, alongside several less expected selections.
Dressed to the nines in bright green, Robinson strutted out to “Being With You,” linking arms with a background singer and romantically crooning the easygoing ballad backed by a six-piece band. The house lights quickly flipped on for the even older follow-ups “I Second That Emotion” and “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” giving fans the opportunity to sing along.
Though the audience’s participation would return at numerous points of the night, Robinson ruled “Quiet Storm” and “Ooo Baby Baby” all by himself, taking a much slower route on the latter than the original record, but coming across as smooth as silk. He quickly switched gears backed to the upbeat for a set of smashes he wrote for The Temptations, including the immortal “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” “Get Ready” and “My Girl,” cheekily proclaiming “I knew you were the Ravinia Festival Choir!”
Speaking of writing, he recalled running into Stevie Wonder (or perhaps more accurately, “Wonderful”) at a Christmas party when his pal offered up some music that was eventually matched with Robinson’s lyrics to become “The Tears Of A Clown.” And while the headliner had nothing to do with the standard “Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words),” he re-interpreted it with such soulful sophistication that it could’ve easily passed as his own.
Robinson’s voice also became the focal point of a rare (and similar sounding) “B-sides” segment performed with just a keyboard player and three supporting singers. Though the material wasn’t as widely recognizable outside of the handful who screamed “sing it Smokey,” the stripped down arrangements further amplified his buttery delivery.
However, the legend made sure to depart with some of his most memorable material from various periods, tapping into his ‘80s comeback “Just To See Her,” dipping to the ‘60s for “The Tracks Of My Tears” and then taking a ride into the ‘70s come “Crusin.’” For that finale, he split the entire audience in two and had volunteers cheerlead each section to gauge the loudest, but by the end of the joyous experiment, Robinson was the one who earned the most rousing ovation for giving faithful an ageless and authentic glimpse at his so much of his musical gold.
For additional information on Smokey Robinson visit SmokeyRobinson.com.
Upcoming concert highlights at Ravinia include “I Love The 90s” starring TLC, Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath, Biz Markie, All-4-One, O-Town and Snap! (Sept. 16). For additional details, visit Ravinia.org.