Review: Smokey Robinson with the Los Angeles Philharmonic @ the Hollywood Bowl, July 20, 2012

Review: Smokey Robinson with the Los Angeles Philharmonic @ the Hollywood Bowl, July 20, 2012

Despite its famed temperate weather, there are very few evenings in Los Angeles where one doesn’t need some kind of wrap—even at the height of summer. If you’re headed to the Hollywood Bowl, more essential than your picnic basket is layers of clothing to fend off the foliage-aided chill air. On Friday July 20th, the first of two nights featuring Smokey Robinson with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles was completely out of character boasting a balminess that is more typical of a real Southern state—but without the humidity. Bowl-goers took full advantage of this aberration, adding a breezy attitude to the already good-natured evening.

The warm-up (no pun intended) portion of the evening featured the Philharmonic performing selections from Bernstein’s Candide, Manicini’s “Moonriver,” and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, including the perfectly placed classic, “Summertime.” If you haven’t seen the Phil conducted by Sarah Hicks, it’s a very different experience that the usual symphony one. The eye-catching Hicks brings a sassy swagger and style to what is a traditionally staid and conservative musical medium. The night’s focus was on American songs which Hicks flashily intro-ed and outro-ed with anecdotal stories about the choices.

The audience was primed for Smokey Robinson who fueled the anticipation with the help of the Philharmonic, his own finely tuned band, plus two midriff-bearing hottie dancers. After the appropriate amount of build-up, Smokey strolled casually onto the stage in a crisp sharp white suit and his signature toothy grin.

Smokey is 72 years old. He has been a performer and a songwriter for over 75% of those years. The guy knows what he’s doing. His honeyed croon with that slight quaver which gives it that Smokey distinction, sounded as good as it ever did. Alternating between performing accompanied by the Philharmonic and just by his band, he gave the audience the familiar Smokey standards they were there for. “Going To A Gogo,” “I Second That Emotion,” “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” “Ooh Baby Baby,” “Being With You,” “Tears Of A Clown,” were all delivered smoothly and effortlessly. A 15-minute medley of Temptations songs was performed—many of which were written by Smokey—complete with fascinating tales from Detroit and Motown’s past. Just as entertaining as his singing was Smokey’s natural banter and his non-stop dancing, which belies his age by miles. Shedding layer after layer of his blinding outfit, Smokey must be on a no-carb diet, man looks amazing.

Caught up in the party atmosphere, Hicks could be seen shaking her groove thing when she wasn’t leading the Philharmonic through its Smokey paces. She and the Phil departed for the encore while Smokey went through a costume change returning in a disco outfit this reviewer would kill for, replete with sparkly black jacket and shiny pants. One of the newer additions to Smokey’s repertoire is the inclusion of songs with Spanish verses. He mixed this flavorful ingredient into the aforementioned classic “Being With You,” as well as into “Tu Me,” one of his newer cuts. Turns out Smokey can do the Latin crooner thing no problem—watch out Julio. The tender “Love Bath” and languorously sensual “That Place,” both from his recent album, Time Flies When You’re Having Fun, showed that Smokey still has his songwriting chops.

Ending on the highest note possible with “Tracks Of My Tears” and an extended version of audience sing-along “Cruisin’,” Smokey ensured the entire Bowl left satisfied. And the evening was still balmy on the way out.

Photo by Yasmine Khonsari. More photos to come.