Saturday night at Constitution Hall, Smokey Robinson celebrated his 25th year in show business with an hour-and-a-half show that touched on all the stages and aspects of that career. From the doo-wop nostalgia of the 1959 "Bad Girl" to the heartaching immediacy of his latest single, "You Are Forever," Robinson underlined the generous romanticism that ties his career together.
His voice hasn't suffered from the passage of time. If anything, it has deepened and sounds more resonant than ever. He can still pour more credible emotion into one vowel than most singers can muster in an entire show. Robinson soared up and away on the wordless vowel that introduces "Being With You" and stretched the "ooo" in "Ooo Baby, Baby" till it hurt. Better than any lyrics could, those two scat syllables captured the heights of elation and depths of depression that love can produce.
Robinson was paid a surprise visit by one of the original Miracles, Bobby Rogers, who walked on from the wings and bear-hugged his former leader. Robinson's superb 10-piece band, Quiet Storm, was led by Motown producer and keyboardist Sonny Burke, and featured guitarist Marvin Tarplin. Tarplin, a longtime Robinson associate, wrote the music to "Tracks of My Tears," "Going to a Go-Go" and "Cruisin'," all of which Robinson sang Saturday.
The show began with Tarplin's instantly familiar guitar intro to "Tracks of My Tears." Robinson sang the first verse offstage as the crowd's frenzy built. Just as he sang "Take a good look at my face," he walked on stage in a resplendent, tight, all-white outfit. As the outstretched female arms reached toward the stage, he closed his eyes and crooned, "If you look closer, it's easy to trace -- ah -- the tracks of my tears." He reluctantly let go of the notes with the painful honesty of a real confession.
Perhaps the key to Robinson's astonishing career is this openness. Robinson lays out his most vulnerable feelings for his lover. Thanks to his gorgeous voice and songwriting craft, those feelings ring so true the echoes never stop.