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November 14, 2006

Legend, Thicke consecrate Riviera with soul

When was the last time you had a spiritual experience? Was it during church? Talking with a close friend? Listening to motivational music? On Thursday, November 9, the Riviera Theatre was the church and the preachers were singers Robin Thicke and John Legend, encouraging musical atheists to drop to their knees and throw their hands up in praise.

John Legend has already established himself as a soulful choir member singing secular music. However, in Thicke’s own words, why would Legend “let the little white boy open up for him?” The answer was revealed as soon as Thicke began the introductory rites of this moving service. As wailing guitars announced his entrance, Thicke sat down at the piano and played the nostalgic “2 The Sky.”

“I can do better than make you love me,” began Thicke in “I Need Love,” providing sexual healing through his passionate vocals and tender stroke of the piano. In “Shooter,” he used everything from his tongue, hand, and microphone stand as make-believe guns, hinting at his yearnings and desires—and those of every female witness in the room.

Do you remember when Thicke went through his hippie phase and spent an entire music video riding around on a bicycle? Sporting a close-cropped haircut and a black suit, he sang his first major hit “When I Get You Alone,” then gave the crowd a taste of “Cocaine.”

Anyone who even slightly knew the new single “Lost Without U” joined him in singing this delicate prayer. Thicke ended his set with the up-tempo “Wanna Love U Girl.” The radio version could never do justice to the emotion and care that Thicke put into this song, using his falsetto to its fullest.

At this point, John Legend took over the service with “Heaven,” serving the crowd wine and bread for an enriching communion. Taking a more secular tack, Legend and his trio of backup singers displayed their ’60s throwback groove on the Kanye West–produced “Stereo.”

“Let’s Get Lifted” continued Legend’s reputable laid-back groove, while “She Don’t Have To Know” used stagnant cymbals and eager guitars to further showcase his vocal prowess. Legend also obviously knows the way to Sesame Street, singing two B-sides to the show’s soundtrack, “Save Room” and “Each Day Gets Better.”

The tempo received some Red Bull during “Number One,” another Kanye West–produced hit. “Hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorn,” Legend begins. “Payback is a bitch. A bitch named Maxine.” Through this acid trip of faded memories, he tells the tale of a girl cheating on him—as opposed to his last album, which prominently featured his own infidelities.

A trumpet fanfare punctured the sullen mood, reestablished the funky disco era, and even integrated a bit of salsa in “I Can Change.” WGCI FM’s Bionce Foxx joined Legend for a “Slow Dance” while the backup singers became backup dancers with their synchronized choreography to the roller rink-themed “P.D.A.” This sacred party continued with reggae remixes and one of Legend’s biggest hits, “Used To Love U.”

The gospel of John Legend was brought to life through the influential “Show Me,” which included backup singers and Legend at his most vulnerable. The simplicity of instrumentals and vocals made the song that much more honest and allowed listeners to truly connect and renew their spirits. There was no better concluding rite to this service than fan favorite “Ordinary People,” not only highlighting the heartening vocals of Legend but also those of the audience.

So what did we learn from reverends John Legend and Robin Thicke? We learned that a “little white boy” could bring just as much soul as any seasoned gospel crooner; that Sesame Street is just around the corner when listening to John Legend; and that if you’re in need of a spiritual experience, there are two singers who are here to answer your prayers.