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Robin Thicke hosts a steamy, soulful ladies night at ACL Live

Deborah Sengupta

Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 21, 2014

“There are a lotta bored looking dudes in here,” my friend remarked a few songs into Robin Thicke’s steamy set at ACL Live. As indicated by the high-pitched squeal that went through the crowd the moment he set foot on stage, this was a show for the ladies. To drive home the point, he entered to the sound of ‘Give It 2 U,’ one of a several songs in his repertoire that find Alan Thicke’s son explicitly referencing his male anatomy. The crowd, which appeared to be at capacity and at least 70 percent female, went wild.

Backed by a powerhouse band that included two drummers, a horn section, two back-up singers in hot pants and crop tops and a hype man/rapper, Thicke threw down a seamless set that mixed hype-inducing club tracks with heartfelt ballads. He mixed up his stage delivery, alternating between choreographed dance numbers and seated passages at the piano that put his chops as an instrumentalist and songwriter front and center. He also flexed his ability to transition between the two. On the second song, the upbeat R&B track “Magic” he actually hopped up from the piano to dance on top of it.

In the spectrum of so-called blue-eyed soul artists Thicke falls more into Justin Timberlake’s camp than Mayer Hawthorne’s, but his music is rooted in authentic R&B and most of his career has been centered in the urban music spheres. He’s opened for John Legend, Beyonce and Mary J. Blige. Before “Blurred Lines” took the Internet and the airwaves by firestorm last summer he was that white dude who did frequent drop ins on BET’s “106 and Park.” The crowd at ACL Live, however was predominantly white women ranging in age from 20-something to 40-something, all dressed to the nines.

Thicke proved to be a powerful crooner and a gracious performer, ceding lengthy solos to his band members who he called out by name. He bantered easily with the audience, asking for barbecue recommendations and praising the venue. He played a solid 60 minutes before exiting for a few minutes in a break that was clearly not the end of the show and didn’t warrant a call for an encore.

Coming back to the club banger “Shake It 4 Daddy” he brought the audience back to their feet. He remixed the song to include a few choruses from the Red Hot Chili Peppers “Give It Away” an awkward transition that he really should lose. Early in the night he also dropped a couple choruses of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” also a bad look. His take on Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” on the other hand was flawless, and his version of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” was also totally credible.

Of course the highlight and predictable climatic end point came 15 minutes into the encore (?) section with the aforementioned inescapable song of summer 2013, “Blurred Lines.” The crowd went insane the moment the beat dropped and even crazier as Thicke climbed into the audience and sang the song walking through the front rows as mostly women clustered toward him stretching to touch him or take a selfie. Considering the controversy generated by the song, the live version was remarkably tame, with only a few flashes of skin in the form of venetian blind-style clips of the less pornographic version of the video and no twerking whatsoever. Thicke made clear it was the endpoint however. Taking moments in the extended jam at the end to jump up on the stage and vibe with both of his drummers he kicked down a couple cymbals putting a rock’n’roll style exclamation point on the song that made him a star.