Concert Review: Estelle and Robin Thicke Live at Taste of Chicago (Thursday, July 12 at Petrillo Bandshell)

Concert Review: Estelle and Robin Thicke Live at Taste of Chicago (Thursday, July 12 at Petrillo Bandshell)

Current holder of the number one song in the country, Robin Thicke arrived in Chicago Thursday afternoon alongside British R&B singer-songwriter/rapper Estelle for one of the more anticipated performances at the 2013 Taste of Chicago… 

Riding high on the success of a well-received performance by pop-rockers Fun. and indie rockers Delta Spirit the day before, the Taste of Chicago proved Thursday that a little luck and great timing can go a long way.

For the twelfth straight week, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” is the number one song in the country according to the Billboard Hot 100.  Powered by the incredible, NSFW viral video, “Blurred Lines” no doubt sparked ticket sales, ultimately responsible for a second straight sold out concert at the 2013 Taste of Chicago.

Thursday afternoon’s festivities though kicked off with a forty-five minute set from underrated, versatile British singer-songwriter/rapper Estelle Swaray.

Most well-known in the U.S., and especially in Chicago, for her 2008 collaboration with Kanye West on “American Girl,” Estelle arrived in “the Windy City” amidst one of the more productive stretches in her career:  the album All of Me (released last February) and a three volume EP series (available free of charge at her website) which began with the release of Love Jones Volume 1 only weeks ago.

Estelle wasted no time Thursday getting to her biggest hit, taking the stage (clad in a Derrick Rose jersey) to the sounds of “American Girl.”

From there, Estelle rolled through a set that, while uneven at times, found her in excellent voice.  Turning over the stage to her DJ (who spun hits by artists like Bell Biv Devoe, Kurtis Blow, Prince and more) slowed the pace for a time as did a set from special guest, southside native, rapper Jeremih.  Jeremih performed a mini set of his own rolling out hits like “Birthday Sex” and “Down on Me” before Estelle returned to finish it.

Focusing on newer material, she showed impressive range on tracks like club anthem “Call These Boys” and the more subdued ballad “Fall in Love” as well as covers of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” and Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love.”

Estelle - Love Jones Volume 1 cover art

Flanked backstage by celebrity couple Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, Robin Thicke hit the stage at 6:45PM for a fairly mediocre set lasting just over an hour.

Again, Thicke got right to business too opening with the ubiquitous “Blurred Lines.”  Joined onstage by a full band, he delivered the 2013 song of the summer well, playing to the crowd all the while.  While it may borrow heavily from Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up,” there’s certainly no denying what a great song it is.  It’s catchy, slightly risque (and ultimately quite memorable as a result) and it sounded great outdoors Thursday on one of the most gorgeous weather days we’ve had in Chicago so far this summer.

It’s rare to be able to catch an artist perform such a major hit in such a timely fashion, while it’s at its peak.

In an era where major, commercial, crossover hits have become more and more rare, the opportunity to share a song with so many people dancing and singing along to a bona fide hit is special.  It just doesn’t happen very often and it kind of felt like catching lightning in a bottle.  It was a very cool concert moment.

So if nothing else, I walked away from Thursday’s #Thicke performance feeling that.

But from there, things misfired.

And at the end of the day, it’s because there’ s no single thing that Robin Thicke is really, really good at as a live performer.  He’s just good enough at enough things to just get by.

Is he a great singer like Mariah?  No, but he’s ok.

Is he a great dancer like Justin?  He’s certainly not a bad one.

Is he a great piano player like Fiona?  Eh, he’s alright.

Is he a polarizing figure like Kanye?  Is he a smooth talker like Jay-Z?

You get the idea.  He’s fine in all of those areas:  Not terrible in any, not great in any.  He’s like a poor man’s Michael Jackson.  Where Michael excelled in all of those areas, Robin Thicke is perfectly mediocre in all of them.

Which is fine… because obviously he’s got something.  The women swooned and the crowd certainly responded to him.

But ultimately, he was available for a festival like the Taste because he wasn’t a major, A-list musician at the time he was booked.  The Taste got lucky as his viral video coincided with promotion and staging of the event.  Because make no mistake… until a brilliant video, a dash of Marvin, some NSFW light nudity and a genius online marketing campaign garnered him EIGHTY-SEVEN MILLION YouTube views, his talent only carried him so far.

He moved to the piano ably, he too covered Bob Marley and he explained how the song “Dreamworld” was about ending poverty, ending racism… and drinking as much wine as he wants (priorities).  He also extolled upon the masses his idea that having faith is important via “Can U Believe.”  All great.

But aside from “Blurred Lines,” nothing grabbed me.

And that was ok… because then he played “Blurred Lines” again.

That’s right, he played it twice in the same hour Thursday.

With about twenty minutes left to go in the set, from my vantage point along the side of the stage, I could see him walk to the back for a conference with his drummer – who clearly told him they had twenty minutes left to play.

“We’ve got time for a few more songs” said #Thicke.  From there, him and the band rolled through covers of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” (where he ignored the song’s highest notes) and Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”

“Let’s end it the way we started” reasoned Thicke, crawling to the finish line, as the band once again launched back into “Blurred Lines.”

And again the crowd ate it up – I did too – but at the end of the day the whole scenario was pretty indicative of the fact that the guy just doesn’t have a whole lot of other tricks up his sleeve.

– Jim Ryan

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