After his first song at Wolf Trap last night, Smokey Robinson told the crowd that he had no planned set list and would spend most of the evening singing requests. He quickly proved he meant it by responding to a request for "Choosy Beggar" even though he had forgotten second-verse lyrics and by singing "Bad Girl," a song so old and obscure it predated his first real hit, "Shop Around." And when a couple requested "Come to Me Soon" from the new album, "Love, Smokey," Robinson apologized that the band hadn't learned the song yet, but he sang it anyway, giving the album's best tune a breathtaking a cappella performance.
The result was a Smokey Robinson show unlike any other, as one of America's greatest songwriters skipped around 30 years of music and dug up gems he never does on stage. Resplendent in a silver-studded white suit, Robinson was backed by a 10-person string section and an eight-person rhythm section that proved flexible enough to flip quickly into whatever song Robinson started next. Sonny Burke conducted his own arrangements, and Robinson's 30-year sidekick Marv Tarplin was on hand to play his unforgettable guitar intro to "The Tracks of My Tears."
Robinson's voice was a bit ragged at first but when he bore down on ballads like "Ooh Baby Baby" and "Who's Loving You Now," he created the impression of romantic confessions with nothing held back. Perhaps the biggest treat was the chance to hear him sing his greatest composition, "My Girl," a song he wrote for the Temptations and rarely performs himself.