William "Smokey" Robinson is one of America's greatest songwriters. The songs he couldn't fit into his hour-and-a-half set at Constitution Hall Saturday night are just as impressive as those he did. But the 40-year-old Robinson is no over-the-hill historic figure. His recent hit, "Cruisin'," and the even newer "Let Me Be the Clock" stood up well against pop-soul classics like "Tracks of My Tears" and "Get Ready."
Moreover, Robinson proved that he is still one of music's premier crooners.
He was able to sing with breathy intimacy and burning intensity at the same time. Squeezing his elbows against his beige vest, Robinson would wince and force out notes so tremblingly sincere that they elicited squeals from all over the hall. As his quivering confessional on "Oooh Baby Baby" floated into an etheral falsetto, women were climbing out of their seats to forgive him.
Robinson's recent comeback cuts against the grain of contemporary soul. While most male soul singers are posturing as invulnerable macho men, Robinson is proving there's far more power in an honest admission of real emotions.
Robinson's band, Quiet Storm, was highlighted by Robinson's co-composer and former Miracle, Marvin Tarplin. Saxophonist Fred Smith lit up many songs with his blustery solos. By themselves, however, Quiet Storm played a mediocre middle set. Far better was the first set by Keith & Darrell, who played bouncy soul reminiscent of the Jackson 5.