Phoenicians would be within their rights to be pissed off at Robin Thicke, who has not performed a show in the state since "Blurred Lines" became the summer song of 2013. He cancelled an October 27, 2013, appearance at the Arizona Jazz Festival claiming illness. Three days later the news broke that the family of Marvin Gaye was suing him and Pharrell Williams for their "Got to Give It Up" soundalike hit.
And then Thicke cancelled the makeup show on March 26, citing health reasons again. By that time he and his wife Paula Patton were separated and looking at divorce lawyers. Reaching for his own Here, My Dear moment, Thicke announced that his next album would be named after her and his next single would be called "Get Her Back."
The Paula album, like his actual attempts at reconciliation, seemed half-baked, with the majority of people feeling that he was using his failed marriage as a marketing ploy for public sympathy. His decision to write and produce it all himself and rush it out five weeks after announcing it proved disastrous. In its opening week, it would sell fewer than 600 copies in the U.K., Australia, and his homeland, Canada. Maybe after she accused him for cheating, attaching her name to this dog of an album was simply his way to drag her name through the mud. "Get Her Back" indeed.
His admission that he didn't actually co-write "Blurred Lines" and that he was high on Vicodin at the time of composition and just "wanted some of the credit" damaged his image even further than rubbing against a hundred Miley Cyruses ever could.
But all that seemed like a vague memory when Thicke took the stage of the Coors Light Birds Nest at the Waste Management Phoenix Open stage Friday night, preferring to treat the past two-and-a-half years like it was all a bad dream, like that season of Dallas that never happened so they could bring Bobby Ewing back from the dead. Not a single note from Paula was played, and Thicke never acknowledged that he ever cancelled any shows here or that it was his first full concert in nearly two years. Except for one lyrical insertion of "Scottsdale" halfway through the show this could've been any gig in Anytown, U.S.A. Discounting his new duet with Nicki Minaj "Back Together" (well, new in 2015), this set list could've been that first cancelled show in 2013. In-between-song banter was of the generic "Who came to party?" and "How many beautiful couples do we have here tonight?" and only further blurred the lines of what tonight was really all about.
Right at the point where he might have even acknowledged "It's been a long time, Phoenix," we heard gratitude platitudes about how he and the band never take it for granted that they are blessed to be able to do this for you.
And the selective amnesia approach seemed to work.
His band, dubbed Black Dynamite, was just that, a seven-piece band with a three-piece horn section that looked and sounded like a soul review that has been playing every night the past two years. And Thicke, the only white component onstage the whole show, matched them for soulfulness, even turning out covers of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" and Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" that sounded enough like the records to spare anyone any embarrassment.
Not that the largely PGA audience would've docked anybody for soulfulness, but still! And after a DJ set of atrocious dance remixes of Journey, Bon Jovi and Nirvana, even whispering golf announcers would've seemed like the height of R&B.
Opening with "Give It 2 U," his "Blurred Lines" follow-up (you knew you were gonna have to wait the whole concert to get to that one), Thicke and his trademark falsetto were in fine fettle, although I did miss the Kendrick Lamar admission "Uh, I wanna sit you where my face at." Ditto for rhyming "cotton candy" with "I'm often antsy." There was what I call an UBER (unidentified burly rapper) that would come out and bust a rhyme when necessary and occasionally, as in the Minaj duets, like " Shakin' It 4 Daddy," a taped performance filled in.
By the second song, "Magic," Thicke was already standing on his grand piano, maintaining the energy level the band set the whole night.
His only weak spot was mid-show, where he got the audience worked up during a soul revue rave-up worthy of Solomon Burke, asking the audience repeatedly "Who wants to go to the mountain? Who wants to fly?" and instead of launching into something like maybe a cover of "I Want to Take You Higher" or something of that altitude, he settled down at the piano and performed "Dreamworld," his requisite song about how the world should be. No poverty. No prejudice. A world where the polar ice caps never melt and Robin Thicke can drive his big car. Yeah, even Stevie Wonder never thought of that one. This, by the way, is the same song where he gets to chastise the world for not treating his ex-wife right and assure his idol Marvin Gaye that "Your father didn't want you to die." Yeah, he just shot him to stun, not to kill. Maybe in that same Dreamworld Thicke could asked Marvin to have his family go easy on him and Pharrell.
Otherwise if anyone came to this concert a non-believer, they would've left thinking that Thicke is a slightly less hyperactive Bruno Mars with a pterodactyl falsetto and a parcel of really likable dance pop. Even without apologizing, Thicke did considerable reparations to his epic PR fails of the past three years.
It remains to be seen if his overdue album, Morning Sun, can do the same thing to his tarnished reputation. .
Last Night: Robin Thicke at the Coors Light Birds Nest in Scottsdale, the musical entertainment at the Phoenix Open.
The Crowd: Still a golf crowd, older men with their wives dressing 10 years younger than reality required. The younger people in the crowd were more interested in selfies. No indication of people being Robin Thicke fans. One younger woman exiting complained that he did too many songs.
Personal Bias: I was supposed to review the first time Robin Thicke show that got cancelled, so I was miffed I had to review Keyshia Cole's anti-climactic opening set in its entirety. And the hour I spent listening to his Paula album wondering why he copied Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsy cover is an hour an I'll never get back.
1 Give it 2 U
3. Back Together sans Minaj
4. Lost Without You
5. Take It Easy On Me
6. Pretty Lil' Heart
7. Oh Shooter Lil' Wayne everything's gonna be alright Marley
10 Band introduces the band
11. Wanna Love You Girl
12. Shakin' It 4 Daddy
13 Rock with You
14. Let's Stay Together
15. Blurred Lines