Concert Review: Robyn at Park West in Chicago, May 7

by

comment

(Last week I was on vacation in Chicago; I saw a bunch of shows, including a rare appearance by Swedish electro phenom Robyn.)

Robyn’s self-titled album has been out in her native Sweden for a full three years. But amazingly enough, Robyn was just released in the U.S. a few weeks ago; it took the former ‘90s pop tartlet (“Show Me Love,” “Do You Know What It Takes?”) just that long to secure a distribution deal.

Then: Robyn, "Show Me Love":

Still, the wait for Robyn’s domestic release was well worth it. A glorious, witty distillation of ‘80s new-wave, modern electro, flamboyant gay disco and hip-pop, the disc proves that female musicians can be sexy, playful and smart – without dumbing down their music or cheapening their image.

Her set was all this and more last Wednesday at the Chicago club Park West. (With its curtain-lined stage and tasteful booths, along with open space near the front, the venue had the look of a modern jazz club; think a much larger version of the late club Finale.)

Wearing an all-black outfit with an attached cape – giving her the look of a bat having a formal night out on the town – and sporting her trademark asymmetrical blonde wedge-bob, she was free to be a vamping dance diva.

Highlights of the brief set were “Crash and Burn Girl,” whose electro swerves scream ‘80s rock; the glass-shattering discotheque romp “Konichiwa Bitches”; and the female-empowerment, Baltimora-reminiscent anthem “Who’s That Girl.” Her suit-sporting trio of backing musicians further classed-up the show; the keyboard samples and melodies were spot-on, while having two drummers on several songs (and the occasional use of uber-‘80s percussion pads) amped up the grooves.

Now: Robyn, "Konichiwa Bitches":

Even without much stage banter, Robyn is a commanding presence, one capable of being cute and seductive. (Cute: Forming the shape of a heart with her hands after a song. Seductive: The many times she clutched her breasts.) Her cute side largely won out during the night, however. A medley of cover songs (which included Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance” and Salt ‘n Pepa’s “Push It,” among others) was playful and silly, while though a piano-heavy, cabaret-campy version of Prince’s “Jack U Off” was (again) more cute than titillating, and a re-worked, slowed-down version of “Show Me Love” delighted the crowd.

The show only lagged when Robyn attempted her slower, non-dancefloor-friendly numbers; her fragile, sometimes-babyish voice just couldn’t handle being a balladeer. Still, this vulnerability worked well on the Kate Bush-esque, Kleerup-featuring post-modern synthpop gem “With Every Heartbeat” and the show’s final tune of the night, “Be Mine!” Grasping the microphone like a kindergartener afraid to be in the spotlight, she wobbled and cracked – but never crumbled – as she sang the song, whose lyrics detail someone realizing that her crush will never reciprocate her romantic feelings.

-- Annie Zaleski

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.