Where: The Fillmore, Philadelphia
When: April 30, 2008
If you’ve never heard of Robyn, here’s the 411: She’s touring small clubs behind her latest release — the self-titled Robyn — after its long-delayed American release earlier this month. She’s perhaps the world’s only unashamed pop star simultaneously beloved by indie writers, music critics and an ever-growing international fanbase that includes our most obnoxious celeblogger. And her new repertoire of electropop, far removed from her late nineties hits like “Show Me Love,” are impossibly infectious. So you can’t blame me for venturing out to see her play Philadelphia’s Fillmore Theatre — nor for claiming Robyn as my guiltiest pleasure since its European release back in 2005.
And truth be told, I wasn’t let down. My only complaint about Robyn’s set was its brevity: incorporating two encores, she only managed 70 minutes of material. But playing to a capacity club crowd, even she was surprised at the American reception to some of her lesser-known Eurohits — among them “Konichiwa Bitches,” which the majority of the audience (myself included) knew every word to. (Sample lyric: “Comin’ in your mouth/Makes you say yum-yum.”)
In that just-over-hourlong set, Robyn played the majority of her new disc, backed the entire time by two drummers, a keyboardist and a Mac. Opening the set with an absolutely electric “Cobrastyle” — a stylized Teddybears cover from the American rerelease of Robyn — she followed with a slue of her own hits: “Who’s That Girl,” “Crash and Burn Girl,” “Eclipse” and crowd favorite/album highlight “Handle Me.” Her interjections were sparse and brief, limited to spare “thank you”s and “you are so beautiful”s, and her kind demeanor vastly contrasted her stage swagger. Other covers balanced out an otherwise Robyn-dominated set: she worked in minute-long versions of Salt ‘N Pepa’s “Push It” and Snoop Dogg’s “Sensual Seduction” (which she recently remixed), as well as a rockabilly-saloon take on Prince’s immortal “Jack U Off.” (It’s nice to see that “Jack U Off,” which Prince refuses to play in concert himself, sees the light of day somewhere.)
The show’s highlights, however, came when Robyn remixed her own hits — mostly notably the aforementioned “Show Me Love,” which she played in its stripped-down, video-game-blip version. She also remade “Be Mine” as an ’80s punk ballad midshow, later reprising it as a piano-assisted torch song finale. And “Bum Like You” — perhaps the most underrated track off Robyn — appeared in concert as an electrorave remix, a vast improvement on its MOR-light album version.
Outside of her new material, Robyn played only “Show Me Love” and “Keep This Fire Burning” from her back catalogue — a smart choice, although leaving out “Robotboy” and “Should Have Known” from the new disc was rather inexplicable. And her rousing rendition of “With Every Heartbeat” — another American add-on to Robyn — could have turned anthemic had she not cut it off after three minutes.
So if you have the chance to catch Robyn live — and you only do if you’re in NY, Chicago, Cali or Portland (?!?) — then set the date. First Sweden gave us ABBA, perhaps the only tolerable leftover from the disco era outside of the BeeGees. Then Swedish-born Max Martin almost singlehandedly pioneered the nineties explosion of bubblegum pop, penning hits for Backstreet Boys and Britney before re-emerging behind Kelly Clarkson (“Since U Been Gone”) in 2004. Now, Robyn seems the rightful heir to the Swedish pop throne, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to see the Queen in action.