Robyn hits Milwaukee

Ben Levine

Robyn played at The Rave in Milwaukee Saturday, Feb. 12 after canceling the previous three shows due to illness. The Swedish singer released her first material in 1997, and she has been rising in the music scene since the release of her self-titled album in 2005. In 2010, she released three albums, the critically acclaimed “Body Talk” series.

Singer Natalia Kills opened the show, clad in leather. She gave a high-energy performance of steamy pop songs, engaging the crowd all the while. The audience seemed to enjoy it, although the bar was still quite full.

After Kills was finished, I thought I saw Robyn come onstage to set up. After my brain finished processing who I saw, I realized that Robyn wasn’t six feet tall with a half-shaved head. The person I had mistaken for Robyn was Diamond Rings, a Canadian solo artist that specializes in ambiguity.

Rings’ show was more low-key than Kills’ or Robyn’s, but it complemented the music well. He played his breathy tunes in a variety of ways, and really embraced his act as a one-man band: He jumped between guitar, electronic percussion and solo vocal performance throughout his show. It was a good performance, just maybe a tad too long.

Then the crowd began the waiting game. As the clock ticked past 10:45 p.m., people began chanting for Robyn to come onstage. At 11 p.m., four men dressed in laboratory coats walked onstage and assumed their positions, two on drums and two on keyboards.

Robyn then emerged from the left side of the stage and slowly walked up to the mic. After making the crowd wait for almost an hour, she boldly declared: Robyn is here.

Robyn entered wearing patterned leggings, a half-cut shirt and platform Timberland boots, which made clear how comfortable she is in her own skin. She has a way of highlighting the physical strength of her body while also exuding a quintessentially feminine sexuality. She makes eye contact with everyone in the room and demands that you look at her.

The show opened with “Time Machine,” a song off her latest release, “Body Talk.” Throughout 2010, Robyn wrote and released music while on tour, constantly giving her new, relevant material to work with.

This formula proved effective, as all the new songs really shined at the show. Songs like “Call Your Girlfriend” and “Stars 4-Ever” were full of energy because they were freshly made within the past few months.

Robyn’s dancing also electrified her performance. She is not the pop artist of the Britney/Madonna brand who uses hyper-choreographed sets coupled with backing dancers. It’s all her, and it’s all in the moment. She clearly uses some moves as a base, but has a free-flowing style to her that is undeniably in the moment.

Her dancing goes from sharp and robotic, to fierce and tough, to downright sexy. Although she had cancelled the previous three shows due to illness, she kept her energy up the whole night.

Tearing through song after song, the show abruptly ended. Robyn and the band darted offstage after a fantastic performance of “Stars 4-Ever.” After playing the waiting game some more, the band came back onstage, one drummer without his shirt on, and got back to work. They played a four-song encore, including fan favorite “Dancehall Queen,” and left again.

As I began to exit the venue, I pulled aside a bearded man named Michael, who had been dancing like crazy the whole show, to ask him what he thought. He said he had been waiting to see Robyn since her single “Show Me Love” came out in 1997, and that she was far better than he was expecting.

After we said goodbye, Robyn came out for a second encore. She did a beautiful rendition of “Dancing Queen,” a nod to fellow Swedes ABBA, and closed with an acoustic version of “Show Me Love.”

Although Robyn’s style has changed significantly since that song came out, it shows how she embraces her past within her present, and I’m sure Michael was happy to hear that song he first enjoyed updated for the present.