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Live review: Robin Thicke at Club Nokia

December 22, 2009 | 12:37 pm

Robin400 He's still a bit soft-spoken, but he's becoming friskier and funnier. Fans respond by 'Shakin' It 4 Daddy.'

Robin Thicke opened his concert Monday night at Club Nokia with "Diamonds," the final track from his new "Sex Therapy" and true to its placement on the album, it felt an awful lot like a closer. The horn section throbbed with disco-soul abandon. The Game showed up to deliver a growly guest verse. And Thicke opened up his ode to maternal resilience to celebrate anyone who'd bought a ticket. "I want you to know you're all diamonds," he said. "Keep on shining!"

As recently as a couple of years ago, Thicke might not have survived that early climax. His breakthrough 2006 hit "Lost Without U" introduced a soft-spoken lover-not-fighter, the sort of blue-eyed soul singer more likely to warn about the dangers of global warming (as he did on last year's "Something Else") than to brag about his prowess in the bedroom.

Yet "Sex Therapy" reveals a friskier, funnier side of this irreducibly decent guy; it's the first Thicke album with room for a song called "Shakin' It 4 Daddy." So where in previous shows he might have taken the slow-and-steady approach, leaving himself someplace to go, Thicke arrived onstage Monday in full blaze, then sustained the heat for most of his 80-minute set.

Backed by a nimble nine-piece band, he pulled primarily from the new record. In "Make U Love Me," over a springy hip-hop groove that recalled late-'90s Puff Daddy, he bragged, "I'm-a do it better than your boyfriend ever could."

"It's in the Mornin" was the rare sexual entreaty in which the narrator celebrates his partner's willingness to "let it marinate." Kid Cudi joined Thicke for a grinding grunge-crunk take on "Elevatas," which Thicke punctuated by quoting Prince's "Let's Go Crazy." And "Shakin' It 4 Daddy" rode a hard digital bounce.

Throughout this up-tempo material, the singer moved with a confidence that made his appealing awkwardness seem sexy; his dancing during "Shooter" was a thrilling grown-up version of somebody's 6-year-old freaking out after too many slices of birthday cake.

As if to underscore the transformation that "Sex Therapy" represents, Thicke faltered in the slower, wispier material on which he's built his career, and not only because much of it found him stationed behind a piano. In "Angels" his voice sounded thin and uncertain, while "2 Luv Birds" was irredeemably sappy. "Lost Without U" fared better, thanks to its steady bossa nova pulse and to the vocal participation of the female-heavy crowd.

For an encore Thicke tipped his cap to a pair of influences largely responsible for his brand of breathy soul singing. Yet he didn't do anything to Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" or Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" that offered any new information about himself or about those R&B cornerstones. Thicke and his band were just a jukebox, triggering the durable wonder of the originals in our heads.

After that, though, Lil Wayne's "A Milli" came blasting through the club's speakers, and as the musicians took their bows we were treated to the sight of Thicke rapping along excitedly to a street-tough anthem without a drop of sap in it.

As an impromptu closer, it felt something like a new beginning.

--Mikael Wood

Photo: Robin Thicke showcasing "Sex Therapy" at Club Nokia. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times