Better Than: Watching a great show while actually being inside a constantly shaking can of sardines
For a pop artist — even one some would condescendingly term an “intelligent” pop artist, as if pop is by nature stupid — Robyn doesn’t really do instant gratification. On her best songs, you have to wait for the payoff, and sometimes even when it comes — like on the exhilarating “Do It Again,” the title track and by far the best song on her recent tag-team, let’s-procrastinate-from-making-our-albums EP with Norwegian electronic duo/longtime pals Royksopp — you never quite get your fill.
The approach carried over to nearly every element of their tag-team tour, which finally hit New York’s Pier 97 Wednesday night some two months after it launched in Spain. And although we were definitely getting incomplete sets from both artists, their obvious pleasure in touring and performing together is what made the show especially memorable.
After a brief opening set from Zhala, a Stockholm singer on Robyn’s Konichiwa label (whom we missed due to navigating the urban maze leading to the venue — more on that later), Royksopp launched their catalog-spanning set with instrumentals that gradually increased in intensity — as did the laser-driven light show, which became more dazzling as the sun set. The duo was accompanied by as many as seven musicians, including fellow Norwegian guest vocalist Susanne Sundfor, who has released several bold and provocative albums of her own. Sundfor took the stage for a strong version of “What Else Is There?,” the duo’s 2005 collaboration with the Knife’s Karin Dreijer, and remained for two other songs. Their set wound down with “Poor Leno,” for which the group’s Svein Berge came out from behind his keyboard and (sort of) sang, pumping his fist as the song and increasingly agitated light show built and built before shutting down with jarring keyboard stabs.
Royksopp had barely left the stage before the lights, white and relatively restrained, came back up and suddenly Robyn was there — clad in shiny short shorts, thigh-high boots, a billowing white shirt and some weird blue hooded dickey-type thing — singing “Be Mine,” accompanied by her typical two keyboardists and two drummers. Then came three new (or at least unfamiliar) songs: one with Zhala called something like “Freak Baby,” another groove-oriented track apparently called “Love Is Free,” and the winner: a shimmering one with a stately chorus and a throbbing bassline dubbed “Set Me Free.” The track’s Kraftwerkian synth pattern segued nearly into “Indestructible,” and then it was straight into another new song, a robotic one apparently called “Work It Out” — “We’re doing some new songs, stay with us,” she shouted — with a vocoder harmony part and a throbbing, Daft Punkesque ’80s vibe.
Then, the hard work done, the crowd went batshit as she hit the home stretch with three songs from Body Talk — “Stars 4-Ever,” “Call Your Girlfriend” (personally I’ve always been bothered by that song’s hectoring lyrics, which are coming from someone who does a song called “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do”) and “Dancing on My Own.” The crowd positively erupted for the latter, Robyn letting the crowd sing the entire first chorus unaccompanied by her or the band. The set ended more gently with “With Every Heartbeat.”
See also: The Top 10 Robyn Collaborations
After 10 minutes or so, all of the musicians returned to the stage for the combined set, everyone clad in black and/or silver outfits, and everyone but Robyn wearing those creepy shiny ski-masks featured on the EP cover and in television appearances. They played the EP, thankfully not in order — the crowd hysteria peaking with “Do It Again,” for which Berge joined Robyn at the front of the stage, his vocoder’ed voice sounding like an evil version of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky”; bursts of confetti were unleashed from the front of the stage toward the end of the song, most of which flew into the river. After a group take on Robyn’s “None of Dem” for the encore, the show was thankfully over.
The “thankfully” isn’t due to any fault of the performers: both the crowd and the venue itself (not the staff) were unexpectedly obnoxious. While Pier 97’s setting is, on the face of it, idyllic — there’s a lovely river breeze and a stellar city view, except for the giant building under construction behind the left side of the stage — you have to navigate several treacherous J.G. Ballardesque blocks to get to the entrance, and then are herded cattle-like to security, patted down, and then follow another narrow cattleway to get into the venue, which is basically a football field-sized concrete slab with no seating or clear walkways.
And maybe we were just in a bad spot — “right on the edge of the douchiness,” according to a much taller friend — but for all the crowd’s enthusiasm, it was a jostling, fist-pumping, dancing, grinding, yelling, group-selfie-taking mess. There was even a topless girl on someone’s shoulders for a few songs toward the end of the set — which, sure, you might expect at an Eminem or EDM concert. But Robyn?
Whether she’s reached the frat contingent of the EDM crowd or it just seemed like a fun time on a summer night, it was hard not to feel like the bridge and tunnel crowd had discovered your favorite club.
Overheard: “We want Robin!” (a big-type ticker on someone’s iPhone, which they kindly held up on a four-foot pole for the crowd to see)
Random Notebook Dump: “It is really incredibly crowded here, hard to find a place where you’re not being buffetted by vogue-ing dudes and bonding girls (and vice versa).”