Robyn at New York's Webster Hall: Best show of the year?

robyn-PAUL-WAGTOUICZImage 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.

For extensive, excellent photos, see Time Out New York and Brooklyn Vegan.

More news from EW.com’s Music Mix:
Beach Boys’ label wants writing credit and royalties for Katy Perry’s ‘California Gurls’—but they’re not suing yet
Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream’ makes a splash on the Hot 100; Eminem still at No. 1
Miranda Lambert’s new video for ‘Only Prettier’ features some major country girl-power
Sugarland on their new album, ‘The Incredible Machine’
Gwyneth Paltrow goes country!
Jaron from Jaron and the Long Road to Love speaks
Taylor Swift announces new album, ‘Speak Now’

Comments (19 total) Add your comment
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  • Noah Fecks

    what a terrific photo of the lovely ROBYN!

  • maiv

    I went to her SF show. It was amazing!

    • MoJo

      I saw her in SF a few weeks ago too! I don’t know why I was surprised, but I thought it was an awesome show and she was/is a fantastic entertainer! Her energy is infectious and it was such a fun night. Excellent write up.

      • Mike

        I was at the first SF show of this tour. I thought Dan Black and Kelis were really great. But Robyn was on another level, one of the best concerts I’ve been to

  • Tex

    UNREAL show!! Friggin EPIC!
    Check out youtube for a great capture of her encore of “With every heartbeat” you can totally see the “rapture” Leah’s talking about. Spot on. Amazing show.

  • PNK

    I love her cd, I play “Fembots’ over-n-over!

  • Phil

    Went to the show Tuesday night in Philly at the Trocadero and Robyn and Kelis were GREAT! Kelis’ mash-ups of Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo” & the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” and then the Madonna “Holiday” mash-up with “Milkshake” were AWESOME!!!
    Robyn made it seem simple, and I wish she could score a hit here again in the U.S. but after seeing her 2 years ago and now, in a small intimate club show, with less than couple hundred fellow homos ….. I’d be happy for her to never have another U.S. radio hit, cause both of her concerts are now stand-outs in my head.

    Robyn fans “Body Talk Pt. 2″ is dropping September 7th….and BOTH her and Kelis recorded their ENTIRE sets Tuesday night, so expect an imminent LIVE release, possibly for iTunes? Hope that made y’alll smile !

  • hen

    i was dying to go last night! stupid work! stupid livelihood!

  • Stephanie

    Robyn is incredible, but so underrated. She makes some of the best pop music I’ve ever heard but nobody seems to know who she is. Wish I could see her live!

  • Nneka

    I agree with Stephanie…i am amazing that Robyn isn’t big here in the states. I got to see her in Brooklyn last week wednesday and then a private show on thursday. Her energy on stage is contagious, and you can’t help but be a smiling fool once the show is done. Her music is incredible and I can’t wait for the next two albums.

  • leaveterra

    I went to the SF show and I absolutely lost it when she performed “Girl and the Robot” followed by “None of Dem”!! Insanely packed with energy and probably one of the best shows I’ve gone to!

  • Ricky

    Great write-up! You really captured the spirit of Robyn’s show. I saw her Monday in DC at the 9:30 Club…amazing!!! She is not to be missed live!

  • Paris400

    Your review is exactly what I thought! I was at the August 5th show and the floor definitely was bouncing from us jumping – I thought if I die when this floor gives way, I die happy. :-) Thank you for such a great review.

  • Bayonett

    I was at the Washington, DC, show earlier in the week. I think you summed up my experience as well–one of the best concerts I’ve witnessed. Ever. Robyn was transcendent.

    The concert venue was not my preferred one (general admission nightclub full of under-25s lacking awareness of potential death-by-crushing) and actually seeing the stage was a challenge. Nonetheless, despite all that meshugas, I thought Robyn was a brilliant performer, able to connect–and seemingly enjoying the chance to connect–with her audience as few I’ve witnessed can.

    Only disappointment–no “Handle Me” in the live set, and Kelis’s off-handed treatment of her back catalog.

  • Paul

    You should know that ‘tr*nny’ is extremely offensive to trans folk. I understand you didn’t mean any malice, but that is not an appropriate term, so please redact it from this article.

    Other than that, what an excellent recap of the show, Robyn’s infectious energy as well as the crowds’. I was at the Thursday night show (the last of the tour) and I can say that I had the most amazing time and will be comparing every other pop/dance concert to this one for the rest of my life.

  • Justin

    ROBYN is such an underrated artist!

  • Sean

    I was at the tour opening in L.A. and the energy in the room was INSANE! I have never been at a concert where every person in there was completely in tune with the performer. Robyn had us all jumping and pumping our fists in unison. ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!!

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