Over the last two nights, I took distinct portraits of the artist. But then this is an artist with many incarnations and even more aesthetic angles. The line I constantly drop on Robyn is that she’s the increasingly rare pop star you can love without a trace of irony. But that doesn’t mean she’s not full of cheek (patiently prowling like a pugilist, peeling a banana to “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do”) or chests of drawers (check the wardrobe changes both within the MHOW night and the formalwear for the next evening’s mini-set for iheartradio’s contest winners at the tiny P.C. Richards Theater on 6th Ave. in Tribeca). I live-tweeted the crap out of Wednesday’s show, not something I often do because I don’t like annoying people. But there wasn’t a choice: between the vigorous dance clinic to rearranged Robyn cuts and Body Talk’s visceral triumph (“Dancing On My Own” received the extended applause reserved for classic jams, presumably so everyone could clap off their goosebumps), she was at her most uninhibited, dancing creatively, ceaselessly, a two-drummer/two-keyboardist band at her back, full of thanks for our support in pulling off an unlikely mid-career transformation, from teenaged-pop sensation into the smart man’s pop projection. Robyn called Williamsburg her best crowd yet. With some basis for comparison, I’d agree.
Kelis opened the show, leading the room in a somewhat awkward pledge of allegiance to DANCE (“We are slaves only to the beat, because we control the dancefloor,” aka ugh relax technoKelis), but her sequins and sass wound up winning. A particuarly strong sequence included a cover of “Holiday,” which morphed into a Madonna/”Milkshake” mashup and then into Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor”; she was covering bases like dudes were not covering their shoulders in fabric (so many tank tops!). Later Kelis jumped out for Robyn’s encore — after the stripped electro click-clack reworking of the brightest signpost from Robyn’s past life, “Show Me Love” — for a cover of “Push It” which led into Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance.” (Aside from this being a pair of pop divas embracing a pair of pop-diva jams, there’s also the fact that Neneh’s sister, Tityo, is based out of Sweden; that probably brings the Cherrys at least one degree dearer to Robyn.) The show ended with “With Every Heartbeat,” Robyn’s own instant classic, and with a very satisfied crowd. I bought a Konichiwa Records hoodie. Jealous?
The next night Scott joined me at Robyn’s iheartradio show, where the band’s dress was fancy and tailored, no berets or boxer’s towels, considerably less dancing, but still a thrill: There was the nod to another purveyor of smart contemporary pop via a sweet cover of Alicia’s “Sleeping With A Broken Heart,” and in case you thought she was getting carried away with the glamor and comparisons, there was blue hair paint to balance the cocktail dress. Her stylists may have advised against it, but they’d probably wind up a lyric on Body Talk Pt. 1’s opening track. Or at least a twitter hashtag.
Check these great photos of Robyn and Kelis from Music Hall by Jessica Amaya, with a couple of the iheartradio show by Chris Owyoung, and below is a video of “Dancing On My Own” from last night’s show.