For the second time this summer, the Seneca Niagara Casino was besieged by ravenous fifty-something females yearning to get a piece of their teenage crush.
In June, David Cassidy narrowly escaped the clutches of The Bear’s Den following a barrage of bras and scandalous advances, but last Friday night it was Motown legend Smokey Robinson’s turn to experience the fervor of Western New York’s music lovers.
The dapperly dressed former lead singer of The Miracles hit the stage at 8:15 p.m. amid chants of “Smokey! Smokey!” and fans lined up wall-to-wall to hear him fire off his silky smooth falsetto into the night air.
You see, long before he was mentoring wannabes on American Idol, William “Smokey” Robinson, Jr. helped pioneer a style that would come to define the idealistic hustle and bustle of Detroit during the 1960s. When he wasn’t assuming the role of in-demand songwriter for The Temptations, Mary Wells, and Brenda Holloway, he was penning his own stone cold classics such as “Tracks of My Tears” and “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me.”
Because his catalog spans nearly 60 years of prodigious Top-40 magic, trying to hear him croon above all the shouting and out-of-tune audience sing-along wasn’t always the easiest task.
“I Second that Emotion,” “Tears of a Clown,” and “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” each served as musical foreplay for an audience just dying to see how far Smokey would push the suggestive elements of his performance. He swayed, gyrated, and spun every woman present into his web of seduction with such flavor that his 73-year-old self must have summoned some energy from an earlier time.
By the time he reached “Love Bath” and “Tu Me Besas Muy Rico,” his ability to liquefy women with only a smile was firing on all cylinders. His timeless oeuvre combined with the fact that he’s still singing at a hall-of-fame level was enough to put everyone in the mood to carry on the romance well after the show was finished.
As Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) said in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous,” “You know what I do? I connect. I get people off. I look for the guy who isn’t getting off, and I make him get off.”
That’s essentially what Smokey was up to in Niagara Falls on Friday night. He put every ounce of force he had into ensuring that all who attended were made to feel part of the show.
Even when he told stories about Stevie Wonder and other assorted Motown personalities, his mood never faltered, so I don’t think anyone could say that he wasn’t genuinely happy to be there.
Given the addictions and personal drama he’s had to overcome, seeing Smokey deliver a performance of that caliber was nothing short of a miracle.