Robyn at New York's Webster Hall: Best show of the year?
Image Credit: Paul WagtouiczAs one Mr. Jacobim Mugatu might say: “That damn Sweden, it’s so hot right now.”And it’s true; I’m sure we could talk about umlauts and fanged Nordic dreamboats and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo all day long.
But I am here to tell you about The Girl With The Spandex Banana Pants—the tiny, platinum-quiffed blond who last night swept New York City’s Webster Hall into a frenzy so wild that it threatened to collapse the floors of that historic venue and send the sold-out crowd straight to their calamitous deaths, still dancing. (I’m serious: Robyn, they would die 4 U).
I confess, I am already impartial; I put the Stockholm native’s self-titled album at no. 4 on my 2008 year-end Critic’s Top Ten List, and I’ve always tried to see her the few times she’s booked shows Stateside. But I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed an audience as genuinely ecstatic and transported as they were last night. And I know I’ve rarely seen a singer—with no wild stagecraft, no expensive set pieces—connect so thrillingly, bring it so hard, and dance like Rosie freaking Perez in the opening sequence of Do The Right Thing, all while simultaneously nailing nearly every note in her hour-plus set.
But to digress, for a moment: I was sad to miss the criminally early set times slotted for supporting acts Far East Movement and Dan Black (he of the recent double MTV VMA nominations). And sad, too, that the eminently talented R&B defector Kelis seemed—despite looking, in the best possible way, like a tinseled Amazonian tranny who just flew over Rick James’ rainbow—to be more interested in go-go dancing to her onstage DJ than performing her own opening set.
She gave the crowd several new songs it wanted to hear, but ran through brief snippets of older hits that deserved better—“Trick Me,” “Milkshake,” classic ODB collab “Baby I Got Your Money” —as if it were a race, folding them into medleys and DJ-dealt bits of other artists’ songs (Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor,” Madonna’s “Holiday”). She literally did eight seconds of “Caught Out There” before briskly moving on.
Perhaps Kelis was just ready to yield the floor: Once the stage was set for the headliner of the night, the crowd went from medium-grade frenzy to “I’m a 12-year-old girl who just touched Robert Pattinson’s underpants” insanity. And Robyn complied, bringing each and every last boy to the yard (no joke, the crowd looked to be at least 85% giddy gays) with her own milkshake: Body Talk Pt. 1‘s “Fembot.”
What followed—”Cry When You Get Older,” Cobrastyle,” defiant strobelight teardrop “Dancing On My Own,” “Who’s That Girl,” and “Hang With Me,” a song she confessed she was performing live “for the first time ever, in the history of the world“—sounded fantastic: essentially, very much like they do on the albums, only 1,000 times better, because a) the entire room seemed to be drinking up her delirious energy and throwing it back at her tenfold and b) the aforementioned Rosie Perez dance moves. Seriously: unreal. That girl does things with her pelvis that are practically origami.
The awesomely irie Jamaican skank “Dancehall Queen” followed, along with “Don’t Tell Me What to Do” (which she just bequeathed to openers Far East Movement as “Don’t Tell Me What to Drink”; enjoy here). And then came what I would have to define as the two most ultimate moments in a night that was full of ultimates: first, a nearly a cappella rendition of Robyn’s first, long-ago hit, 1996’s teen dream “Show Me Love”: When I tell you she was almost entirely drowned out by every last audience member singing every last word, I am not exaggerating; if she had offered us all a dose of Jonestown Kool-Aid at that moment, every Dixie cup in the house would be drained dry.
I may be exaggerating when I say that the floor felt like it was going to cave in when she closed out on a transcendent version of her 2008 European smash “With Every Heartbeat,” though it most definitely tested Webster’s weathered wooden beams. Nobody seemed to care; they were too busy wringing the last chords of those room-shivering synths from the speakers.
Wending my way out of the venue, I already wondered whether I had merely gotten caught up in the moment; was I just siphoning off joy fumes from the crowd’s collective (and not entirely sober) serotonin surge?
But the looks of my fellow concertgoers on the subway ride home—all identifiable by their purple admission bracelets and beatific, blissed-out smiles—confirmed what I had felt earlier: There are bigger, richer, shinier pop stars out there, ones whose iTunes sales alone could probably sustain the entire economy of a small Third World country. And I’ve still never seen a single one of them give a performance on par with what 31-year-old Robin Miriam Carlsson brought on this hot, sweaty, and spectacularly unforgettable night in New York City.
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