21 Jun 2012: ACL Live Austin, TX
One of the most amazing things about Robyn is that despite the levels of ubiquity she’s achieved since the release of 2010’s still excellent Body Talk trilogy, including no less than three major US tours and television appearances everywhere from Ellen to Saturday Night Live, one still can’t help but root for the Swedish pop star as an underdog in the ever-crowded pop landscape. This is perhaps due to the fact that she is a singular performer who is doing pop music the old fashioned way, where personality is derived from the ways in which the music is performed. There is a sense of heartfelt earnestness to her music that one would be hard pressed to find in any of her pre-fab contemporaries, and one only need experience Robyn live to be convinced why. In front of one of an exceedingly supportive crowd at ACL Live, she performed with the same enthusiasm and energy that she brought to the same venue sixteen months before, and it made for an experience that was nothing short of euphoric.
From the opening notes of the one-two punch “We Dance to the Beat” and “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do”, Robyn was a spectacle whose performance was almost impossible to look away from. Her commanding stage presence was only solidified through her semi-improvised dance moves and her attention to the audience, and it at once managed to walk the thin line between playful and professional. Her dancing never felt out of context, and nearly all those in attendance moved along with her. Her singing voice just as impassioned and confident as ever, making the heartbreaking sentiments of “Dancing on My Own” that much more relatable and the boasting on “Call Your Girlfriend” feel deserved. Meanwhile, her backing band of a pair of identically dressed synth players and drummers faithfully recreated the arrangements that are just as big a part in Robyn’s appeal as her vocals. Combined with little more than an amazing lightshow and a screen projecting abstract imagery, the experience can best be described as a 90-minute dance party with all eyes towards the stage.
Another benefit to seeing Robyn live is that it serves as a reminder of how many top-tier songs she has released over the span of her career. Just about every song that wasn’t released as a single in the Body Talk trilogy, such as the astounding “Love Kills” and “With Every Heartbeat”, could have been, and the songs that announced her artistic liberation, including “Konichiwa Bitches” and “Handle Me”, felt just as edgy and exciting as they did when they were first released. The inclusion of “The Girl and the Robot”, her 2009 collaboration with Röyksopp, was an excellent inclusion that represented one of her finest musical moments, and a minimalist rendition of her first hit “Show Me Love” was the perfect choice for her first encore. Throughout the night, her versatility and ability to shift between different styles of music was on full display, adding to the overall quality of the performance.
Towards the end of her set at ACL Live, the audience reaction between songs was so enthusiastic that it was not hard to tell that Robyn was overwhelmed. Though it was not very visibly noticeable, it seemed that she had to hold herself back so as not to lose her composure on several occasions. It was a powerful display of humbleness, and it showed that even after more than fifteen years of singing professionally she still possesses an immense amount of appreciation for what she does and those who have supported her. With Robyn, one never has the sense that making music is her job, as her passion for her craft emanates in everything she does. She more than proved that with this set.