Friday Night: Smokey Robinson at Jones Hall

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Photos by Marc Brubaker
Smokey Robinson
Jones Hall
February 1, 2013

"You short circuit all my nerves/ Promising electric things/ You touch me, and suddenly there's rainbow rings/ Quiet storm"

-- Smokey Robinson, "Quiet Storm"

Legends do it better. Only Smokey Robinson -- singer, septuagenarian, shaper of the equally legendary Motown Records and songwriter hailed by Bob Dylan himself as America's "greatest living poet" -- would have the musical foresight to rearrange a typical Friday-night concert into a night at the orchestra.

On second thought, perhaps it's a little limiting to label it as such. Robinson's concert had been billed as a performance with the Houston Symphony, so it was surprising to see the orchestra play second fiddle -- or more appropriately, second violin -- to the singer's own six-piece band of electric guitarists, pianists, saxophonist/flutist and drummer.

To that, add three background dancers and a go-go dance duo, whose repeat entrances and exits yielded increasingly fewer returns as the night wore on. In actuality, what the Symphony offered was accompaniment, giving decorative string plucks here and there under the debut direction of Sarah Hicks, while the band poured out a massive wave of sound that doused the audience and drowned Robinson's famously soft tenor on opening hits "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" and "Going to a Go-Go."

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But then all was quiet. With no other noise but a wild flute conveying the start of "Quiet Storm," Robinson's airy voice could finally be fully appreciated.

He could also teach a Rice University class on Crooning 101, as "Ooh Baby Baby" proved. Starting with a breathy opener, followed by five straight concluding minutes of "oohs" and "aahs" that forced "mmms" and "hmms" out of the audience, Robinson brought on a standing ovation.

"We should've done that first," he said to the breathless crowd.

Per legend requirements, Robinson performed all the standard hits: "I Second That Emotion," "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," "The Tears of a Clown," and a Temptations medley including the group's first "international smash hit," "The Way You Do the Things You Do," which got even the symphony members to tap their toes, despite their best efforts to remain professional. The popularity of "My Girl" with the crowd prompted an audience-sung reprise; Robinson anointed them the "Jones Hall Choir."

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This was a great show. Smokey Robinson! What more can you say?

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