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POP BEAT

September 13, 1986|PAUL GREIN

Smokey Robinson has been singing classics like "Shop Around" and "Tears of a Clown" for so long now that it would be easy for him to just walk through his show. After all, that's what the Beach Boys--who have a similarly prized body of work--have been doing for years. But while Robinson was loose Thursday night at the Greek Theatre, he wasn't sloppy.

Robinson will never challenge James Brown for the title of the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business. His casual manner and low-key charm put him closer to Perry Como. This relaxed approach aptly reflects the fluid grace of both old Miracles hits like "More Love" and the more recent "Being with You." The Motown veteran was also able to build to a quiet intensity, setting an especially good groove on "Tracks of My Tears."

A bonus Thursday: Robinson's playful yarn about getting pointers from Julio Iglesias in the art of seduction. We know that was just a gag: Robinson, the ultimate pop romantic, needs lessons from no one in matters of love.

On the downside, Robinson relied too much on oldies. The show was also undermined by poor pacing. Several soft ballads were grouped in the encore when momentum should have been building. And an artist of Robinson's stature certainly shouldn't resort to such tired, tedious devices as dividing the house in half to see which side can sing louder.

The show was opened by Anita Baker, whose "Rapture" album and "Sweet Love" single are climbing the Top 40 charts. The 28-year old Detroit native has a dark, somewhat sultry vocal style which is reminiscent of Cleo Laine and Phoebe Snow, and a distinctive approach which mixes the the cool nonchalance of jazz with the warmth of soul.

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