As a spectacular thunderstorm lit up the skies above Wolf Trap Saturday night, Marvin Tarplin picked out the unforgettable guitar figure that opens "Tracks of My Tears." The voice came drifting out in a kittenish purr--"People say I'm the life of the party"--and Smokey Robinson strode out on stage, as sleek as and svelte as ever. Robinson's show was a triumphant musical event that acknowledged his classic '60s material while asserting his status as a thoroughly contemporary and vital solo artist.
As usual, the crowd clamored for oldies, and Smokey gave them "Shop Around," "Going to A-Go-Go" and a few other Miracles classics. Especially moving was a sensitive, drawn-out rendition of "Ooh Baby Ooh" that created ripples of goose bumps every time Robinson let loose with his shivery falsetto cry.
Robinson's most serious and poignant singing was devoted to his impressive solo work, however. His superb eight-piece band, Quiet Storm, created low-key, sensual arrangements that perfectly complemented Robinson's erotic vocal style on songs like "Tell Me Tomorrow" and "Being With You." Perhaps the evening's highlight was Robinson's breathless, almost whispered vocals on "I've Made Love to You a Thousand Times." While lacking the brash allure of the Miracles' radio hits, these modern songs reveal Robinson at his artistic peak, a singer who can transform his voice into an instrument of profound romantic seduction.