Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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MSN Music News

Robyn: Dancing Into Rock

The Swedish dance-pop star wraps her tour with a humid NYC show

Manhattan's 124-year-old Webster Hall has a storied history: seminal American nightclub, risque early bohemian ballroom, RCA Victor recording studio, and in the '80s, the rock club the Ritz. I've seen Prince and Madonna there, U2 and Youssou N'Dour. Since 1991, it's been a part-time rock hall and a full-time dance palace, with the cops regularly blockading 11th and Third on club nights. The last stop of Robyn's All Hearts Tour Aug. 5 combined these functions.

I'd liked Far East Movement's singles enough to catch their 6:15 set, which I watched with Cherrytree's Martin Kierszynbaum as 100 paying customers awaited processing by the venue's notoriously poky doormen. F.E.M. are pop hip-hoppers from L.A.: Filipino DJ and three rappers, two Korean and one Japanese-Chinese-American, Kierszynbaum reports. All came on doffing space helmets to reveal rectangular black shades, all sporting ties, white shirts and informal jacketry. Catchy and hyperactive, they still blur the line between fun and meaninglessness that Robyn now walks with commitment and grace.

Granted the choice between Brit dance-popper Dan Black and dinner, I chose dinner, wondering when the dance crowd eats and knowing in my gut that Kelis' set was unlikely to provide even a decent milkshake. Sure enough, in skyscraper heels and sequined aqua bodysuit, the former Mrs. Nasir Jones played the hit-snatching superdiva as if good looks and strong voice could make it so. Her ongoing medley got some screams from the already sweaty crowd. But when her finest stolen dance hook, from Madonna's "Holiday," preceded her only hit worth remembering, "Milkshake," I wished they'd lasted longer than a verse apiece.

Robyn is a Swede with hair like Madonna and muscles like Pink who scored her first hits somewhere between the two. Kierszynbaum told me that her strange new release strategy, with three half-hour albums called Body Talk, Pt. 1, 2 and 3 scheduled for release in June, September and December, responds to an online marketing survey that ordered Cherrytree to bring it fast, short and new. But with Pt. 1 her best-written album no matter how pragmatic, this worked out great for anyone who prefers their dance dollies uptempo. She body-slammed the touching punch line "Fembots have feelings too," pumped rhythmic life into the deserving new truism "Love hurts if you do it right," and bom-diddy-bom-de-dang-de-dang-diggy-diggied through the eternally diggy "Cobrastyle." Then, having shed her white jacket and white shirt down to a white sports bra, she flopped onto the synth platform and drank a bottle of water.

Even in the VIP balcony, it was hot in Webster Hall--AC or no AC, at least 10 degrees hotter than outside, with bonus humidity provided by evaporating body fluids. What it might feel like behind the lights as a floor jammed with gay and straight couples got all het up became clear when one of her two white-clad drummers unpeeled his shirt. But in a sec a revived Robyn was dancing through the thematic new "Dancing on My Own" and the pragmatic new "Dancehall Queen," through faster recent hits and slower early ones--dancing cheerfully, catchily, aerobically, strobotically. Also tirelessly, except for one more water break, and ask yourself: Would Kelis have the cheek? On the laff-a-line new "Don't F---ing Tell Me What to Do," she danced to the recording as she ate a banana, and get this: She ate the banana. She was Curious George, not Fellucia Blow.

As the finale wound down into Robyn's oldies, I descended the stairs to the floor, grasping a banister slick with other people's sweat. The dance palace had turned rock hall, but in the back in the 100-plus heat there were guys dancing. Outside, the police barricades were in place. It was pushing 11. Webster Hall was about to turn into a disco yet again.

MSN Music, August 9, 2010