Smokey Robinson made his case in a little more than an hour at the Meyerson Symphony Center on Monday night.
The concert was part of the awards celebration for LaunchAbility, an organization focused on providing opportunities for those with developmental disabilities. The annual event has raised almost $3 million since is first outing, “A Special Evening With Tony Bennett,” in 2002.
Robinson’s set tread the fine line for those intimate with his history and those familiar only with the songs indelibly inked onto pop culture. Dressed in white save for a peach pocket square, he flashed his player card up front with a sultry “Being With You.” He went right into two hits from the Miracles: a bouncy rendition of “I Second That Emotion” and a bluesier-tinged “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me.”
He was clearly in the mood to flex. As “Quiet Storm” rang through the venue, you could see him settling into the emotions of the song. Unlike a lot of falsettos, his voice has warmth that he knows when and how to use. His pitch was impeccable, a perfect blend with the six-piece band and three backup singers that he later called his family.
And then he one-upped himself. He had barely gotten out the “Ooo” before the “Baby Baby” when the audience started applauding. The song’s plea remained at a fever pitch, even delivered by a 74 year old. From the response, he could have ended the show right then. He thought so, too, throwing up his hands and saying “Well, I guess that’s it.”
That’s the strength of the Olympus that Motown was in its heyday. To a performer, they are personable, affable, even gracious onstage. And thankful. All of which led to the history lesson portion of Monday’s show.
“I was there on the very first day,” William “Smokey” Robinson said of the legendary label that came about because of a suggestion he made to founder Berry Gordy.
He told the stories behind some of the songs he wrote. He treated the Meyerson’s beautiful acoustics to the Temptations’ “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “Get Ready.” What he called “the Meyerson Symphony Orchestra Choir” began and ended “My Girl.”
He talked about Stevie “Wonderful” and the genesis of their writing collaboration on “Tears of a Clown.” (He fell into giggles after he said he had not accepted a ride from Stevie because he drove too fast, and a woman in one of the balconies said, “He did?”)
At 9:30, though, Monday night started showing its roots as people started leaving. To be fair, the night had started with a VIP reception at 6 for some. What they missed, though, was when he two-upped himself with a caress of a song, a clarion call to snuggle called “That Place.”
“I am a song lover,” a smiling Robinson said.
If one was holding on to any doubts, his swinging cover of “Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)” should have changed that.
But the decision was final after his own “Tracks of My Tears” became a slow, lazy song with the sparest of arrangements until the band picked up and it soared.
“Fly Me to the Moon” is from releases Timeless Love and Time Flies When You’re Having Fun, on which he said he performed songs written by “songwriters whose work will live on and on.”
He’s on that list, too. Case closed.
On Twitter: @DawnBurkes