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STILL SMOKIN'
ROBINSON EVOKES FORMER GLORY WITH CLASSIC HITS

REVIEW

WHO: Smokey Robinson

WHEN: Wednesday and Thursday night

WHERE: Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort, Niagara Falls, Ont.

Smokey Robinson can't help but be synonymous with the legendary Motown sound. The Detroit native was the lead vocalist for one of its finest hitmakers, the Miracles (later renamed Smokey Robinson & the Miracles), as well as a prolific in-house producer and songwriter for its legendary stable of artists.

In the new Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort's Avalon Ballroom in Niagara Falls, Ont., Robinson's smooth falsetto transported the audience back to Motown.

While Robinson has a new gospel album, "Food for the Spirit," none of its songs made an appearance. Instead, dressed in a shimmering, honey-colored suit and ruffled shirt, Robinson delighted the audience with such classics as "Ooo, Baby, Baby," "The Tracks of My Tears" and "The Tears of a Clown."

A seven-man band, 12-person string section, three backup singers and two spandex-clad dancers helped compensate for the 64-year-old Robinson's diminished vocal prowess. While he still hit the high notes, they lacked staying power.

The crowd didn't seem to mind, as he entertained with stories and jokes. The 110-minute show included a medley of Temptations songs he wrote, and a few surprises, such as a tender version of Ira and George Gershwin's "Our Love Is Here to Stay."

There were moments, too, when Robinson's fragile voice reached back and sounded in all its glory, capturing the crowd and evoking memories of a career that began when the Miracles had Motown's first hit, "Shop Around," in 1960.

The 1,500-seat Avalon Ballroom proved to be an attractive, contemporary nod to Chinese-style theaters of the early 20th century, with a large curtained stage and U-shaped balcony. It's a comfortable venue, though the lack of terraced rows made it a challenge for some to see the stage.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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