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Concerts ’round L.A.
Three recent concerts featuring former Motown acts Smokey Robinson, The Jackson 5 and Gladys Knight prove that these artists are young at heart, still able to bring old and new fans to their feet.
Smokey Robinson at the Bowl, July 20
In the 60s, Smokey defined the archetypal fair-skinned, light-eyed fine brother — and even if that wasn’t your preferred look, you had to admit he’s still fine after all these years— attired as he was in a fine-fitting white suit and pale lavender shirt — and still in good shape — because of his affinity for golfing around L.A., no doubt.
Smokey once admitted that he was a better songwriter than singer and, when you consider the multifarious songs he’s written for himself and others, songs that have landed him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, that might be true, although he sounded good enough for the lady swooners in the house. Accompanied by a partial L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra, his own band and backup singers, the co-founder of the Motown movement came out bouncing to his 1965 “Going to a Go-Go.”
That was followed by Motown Miracle hits like “I Second That Emotion,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and “Ooh Baby Baby,” which were played with the orchestra only, or orchestra-plus-band, or band only. All the time Smokey interwove insightful Motown stories, like the time a young Stevie Wonder came up to him at a Motown Christmas party and said, “Smoke, I got this song (i.e., the music part) but I don’t have any lyrics.” The result: The Tears of a Clown,” to which everyone in the house knew the words and sang along.
The second half of his show brought the man out in some tight-fitting black leather pants and a matching top, resplendent with silver sparklers, for his post-Motown solo career. Of course, there was “Just to See Her” as well as a bilingual version of “Being With You,” to which he grinded and swiveled his 72-year-old hips, taking the lady swooners back to the days of their youthful Smokey lusts.
A couple of tunes off his most recent album, “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun” came next; then the singer-songwriter slowed it all the way down with a very deliberate, very soulful “Tracks of My Tears” before “Smoke” went “Cruisin’” out of the Bowl.
The Jackson 5: Unity Tour at the Greek
While of late, their unity may be being validly questioned by the media, that cannot be said of their July 21 show. While admittedly, it was a kind of a strange sight seeing what essentially was The Jackson 4, four of the original group — Jackie, Jermaine, Tito and Marlon (i.e., minus Randy) — when the brothers entered in their diverse but matching black and sparkly costumes, any longing for Michael dissipated in due time.
There is no way any of Michael’s brothers will ever be able to outsing him or outdance him. Nor did they try. But they can do all those familiar ole Jackson moves in unison, virtually as well as they ever could — and heck, they looked good doing those moves — and a whole lotta new ones too. (A side note about Marlon: As probably the best dancer of the brothers after Michael, his dance moves and especially his poses, recall sister Janet’s in her concerts.)
It was apparently Marlon who pulled his brothers together from various parts of the world to do the tour he said they’d talked about for years, pausing the show several times to thank them for agreeing to do it.
It’s been nearly 30 years since their last tour — the Victory Tour in 1984 — but it’s a fact that Marlon and his brothers quieted those curiosity seekers who thought they might crash and burn without Michael. No way. With a super-bad band behind them and mostly Jermaine and Jackie on lead, the Jacksons came, they saw (and felt the undying love and support of their fans) and they conquered the joyously raucous audience, opening with a video of their images as a backdrop while an intense version of “Can You Feel It” bolted the audience out of their seats.
Yes, we could feel it; we could “Blame It On the Boogie”, and we could check in to “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Even if they didn’t sing your personal favorite Jacksons song, they did justice not only to their oldest tunes as well as Michael Jackson pearls like “Let Me Show You Where to Go” and “You Are My Lovely One.”
Of course, the brothers can’t possibly do a so-called Unity Tour without remembering Michael, which they did as vintage film from their earliest days played on huge video screens, Jermaine sang “Gone Too Soon” –an eerily prophetic song from Michael’s own 1991 “Dangerous” album.
After that emotional interlude, it was back to the days of “I Want You Back,” “ABC” and “The Love You Save” to evoke distinct memories of their quintet days. Jermaine’s solo career — remember “Let’s Get Serious”? — was spotlighted too.
After all was said and done, the four remaining Jackson brothers accomplished what they wanted: to thrill their fans, to honor Michael and to leave the crowd “Shak[ing] [Its] Body (Down to the Ground).”
Gladys Knight at the Greek, July 28
A very svelte Gladys Knight walked out onto the stage to Prince’s “Time,” greeted by a hero(ine)’s welcome. She had to pause for a few moments to soak in all the love and affection from the audience. Then she got down to business, doing another cover, of New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain?” and showing off her recently acquired “Dancing With the Stars” moves and grooves, to the audience’s delight.
Backed by a tight seven-piece band and her “Pips” (in the persons of two male and two female backup singers), Knight blew her way through New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain?” as well as her and the original Pips’ “Love Overboard,” a popular disco-era dance tune. She brought the house down on “If I Were Your Woman,” a No. 1 hit from 1971.
In a career that spans nearly five decades, Knight has her pick of dozens of ballads and uptempos from her Pips days as well as her solo career, so she took time to sing a song “she hasn’t sung in a long time”: “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” That was followed by another cover, this time Karyn White’s super-popular “Superwoman” from the late 1980s.
And she’s been plenty busy in the studio, recording a new album — “Another Journey,” which, she explained, mixes the new with the old, opting to go new school by telling folks they can download it on iTunes and Amazon.com.
As paraphrase the old saying, “Ain’t no party like a Gladys party without little brother Bubba,” who’s been a staple in her act for years. The brother can still get down with the youngins, especially on the concert’s finale, their version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
An amazing-sounding Natalie Cole opened for Knight.