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Concert Reviews:
Smokey Robinson plays favorites but squanders DSO at DTE

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2012

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- Motown legend Smokey Robinson performing back in Detroit is always important.

Adding the Detroit Symphony Orchestra makes it an event. At least on paper.

Unfortunately the pairing didn't live up to its potential on Saturday night, Sept. 15, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, where the DSO proved to be little more than adjunct afterthought -- so much so that Robinson never even introduced the musicians AS the DSO, simply calling them "the orchestra," and nearly forgot to dismiss them after their portion of the show was finished.

The fault was neither the musician's nor guest conductor Nicholas Palmer's. The DSO was simply under-utilized, deployed on just nine songs during the nearly two-hour concert and handcuffed by lightweight arrangements that mostly providing a little extra depth and texture to the sound -- though it was particularly effective muscling up the familiar riff in "Tears of a Clown." Otherwise it felt like the DSO did little that Robinson's two keyboardists couldn't have accomplished via technology, a criminal waste of a world-class ensemble that should have added so much more to the sparsely attended show.

Of course, a standard-issue Robinson show is no shabby matter, and he and his nine-member band certainly pleased those who showed up with plenty of his Motown standards -- "Going To a Go-Go," "I Second That Emotion," "You Really Got a Hold on Me," "Ooh Baby Baby" and a trio of songs he wrote and produced for the Temptations, concluding, of course, with "My Girl." He told stories about the old days, too, including Stevie Wonder presenting him with the idea for "Tears of a Clown" at a Motown Christmas party -- and then offering to drive Robinson home so he could work on it right away.

But you didn't need a discerning ear to tell that Robinson's real passion was for his more recent work, including the covers album "Timeless Love" and his last effort, 2009's "Time Flies When You're Having Fun." He glided through "Fly Me to the Moon" and "I Can't Get You Anything But Love (Baby)" from the former, and he treated the selections from the latter -- including "Love Bath," "That Place" and a cover of Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why" -- with a torked-up concentration and focus. That didn't make older favorites such as "Just to See Her," "Tracks of My Tears" and "Cruisin' " any less pleasurable, but while most of those who trooped to DTE on Saturday came to re-live memories, Robinson served notice that he still has some new(er) songs to sing.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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