(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.