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REVIEW: “Sunshine on a Cloudy Day”: Smokey Robinson in Concert (Grand Casino Hinckley)

Legendary entertainer Smokey Robinson.

Smokey Robinson does not lack for lifetime honors. A member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, he has received a Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts, a Grammys Living Legend Award, and an Honorary Doctorate from Howard University.  But yesterday evening, he was just another music superstar sharing his hits and his love.  And a packed house at Grand Casino Hinckley was thrilled to reciprocate, singing along with every well-known lyric, and, when allowed, crowding towards the stage to get a photo and to try to get closer to the Motown legend.  At Motown, Smokey had been seemingly everywhere and everything:  he was Vice President, writer, producer, talent spotter, and, of course, performer.  And throughout his performance yesterday, he reminisced about his years there and all the great musicians he met along the way. 

The look of the concert was high class throughout.  The backup band included a full string section, the musicians were in formal attire – sportscoats or vests for the men, and many with ties or bow ties — and the concert even began with an overture (of Smokey’s hits).  Smokey himself started out with a blue spangly suit, complete with pocket handkerchief and a ruffle-cuff shirt, though he lost the sport coat as the concert went on. 

Smokey never stopped smiling and never stopped moving along the stage (occasionally dancing with one of his backup singers, and, at the end of the night, with volunteers from the audience).  The songs were mostly the hits everyone came for:  “I Second That Emotion”, “You Really Got a Hold on Me”, “Ooo Baby Baby”, “Tears of a Clown”, “Just to See”, and (for his grand finale), “Cruisin’”. Smokey also emphasized his legacy as a songwriter, playing a trio of hits he wrote for The Temptations:  “The Way You Do the Things You Do”, “Get Ready”, and the famous “My Girl”.  For the audience members of a certain age, these all were, quite literally, the soundtrack of their youth. 

In between his better-known songs, Smokey offered a scattering of other tunes.  He has a new album, just released on April 28, “Gasms,” and he showed great restraint playing only one of its songs – the album’s first single, “If We Don’t Have Each Other”.  Another surprise inclusion was a Spanish song from what he described as a forthcoming all-Spanish album.  There was also a very nice version of Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” (which Smokey had recorded on his 2006 “Timeless Love” album), and a heartfelt “I Love Your Face” from his 1991 “Double Good Evening.” 

It was a vibrant performance, with Smokey’s voice, energy, and intensity all belying his 83 years.  And there seems never to be any time for superstars to rest:  within a half-hour of the end of the concert, Smokey Robinson was needed for a radio broadcast with another musical star from an earlier era, Tony Orlando.


Brian Bix