Here’s a list of artists Wolf Trap booked to perform this summer: Ringo Starr, Hall & Oates, Ben Folds, Huey Lewis & The News, Lionel Richie, Darius Rucker, Yanni, Robyn & Röyksopp.
Bringing the Norwegian electronic music duo and the reigning queen of Swedish electropop to Wolf Trap seems strange for a venue that generally books adult contemporary artists, nostalgia-rockers and video game theme orchestras. But if Robyn’s coming to town, it doesn’t matter where she’s playing: you gotta go.
The three are touring on behalf of an eccentric collaborative album, Do It Again, the culmination of years of friendship. The album also marks Robyn’s first work since her breakthrough release Body Talk. Many of her fans who bought Do It Again were disappointed to encounter lengthy deep house and techno tracks – more Röyksopp than Robyn – instead of sassy, empowering pop morsels like “Konichiwa Bitches” and “Hang With Me.” Nevertheless, those who attended Thursday’s concert witnessed a strange and energetic three-hour extravaganza that Vienna, Virginia is unlikely to see again for many years.
After a brief opening set by singer Zhala, Röyksopp (a.k.a. Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland) took the stage. The duo was front-and-center, clad in neon jumpsuits, while their seven backing musicians were hidden in the stage’s fog. Many of Röyksopp’s songs are downbeat, so they wisely decided to beef up the BPM for the live show. Their tunes included the chilly groove of “The Drug” to “Happy Up Here”, an aggressive track featuring a sax solo blunted by electronic flourishes while animated stars went supernova on the large video screen.
Green lasers crept across the pavilion during “Senior Leaving” as the group played an electronic dirge reminiscent of early M83. For the bouncy, elastic “Remind Me”, Svein Berge left Brundtland alone at their console to act as the group’s front man, singing (roughly) in English and high-fiving audience members as he skid along the crowd barrier. They ended on a particularly high note with the intense, probing “Poor Leno” that, after it got warmed up, sounded less like a slice of imported electropop and more like a jamtronica freakout one would envision from the likes of STS9 or Disco Biscuits.
As much I enjoyed Röyksopp (although the omission of personal favorite “Elpe” was bogus), it was clear the crowd was there to see Robyn. The audience consisted mostly of young women, gay men, couples on dates, and Wolf Trap’s season pass holders who had no clue what they had gotten themselves into. In order to pack in as many songs as possible before curfew, there was a swift turnaround between Röyksopp’s exit and Robyn’s appearance to a roar of applause and cheers. Her look could best be described as exaggerated: orange boxing shorts, giant hoodie, oversized moon boots and – of course – a mullet.
From the seizure-inducing strobe lights of “Be Mine!” to performing three new songs, her 45-minute set showed why Robyn is considered one of most entertaining pop stars in modern music.
The rousing “Indestructible” got the crowd to stand up and chant “This is hardcore!” without a tinge of irony. Even “Stars 4-Ever,” one of the weaker songs on Body Talk, shined in a live setting. The crowd went bananas for “Call Your Girlfriend,” emoting every word loudly and purposefully. It was a prime example of the trance a perfect pop song can put on its fans.
The buzz reached a crescendo during “Dancing On My Own” when Robyn, with her back turned to the audience, mimed “making out” with oneself while the audience sang the chorus a cappella… and then waited in silence for another ten seconds before bursting into the second verse amid a flurry of blue and pink lasers. It was a very excellent performance.
There are some kinks that need to be worked out with the new stuff – “Set Me Free” was fun but too repetitive and Robyn’s attempt to booty-dance during the Latin-flavored “Work It Out” was embarrassing – but the crowd was receptive to the new material, accepting it months prior to its release on a new EP.
After concluding with “With Every Heartbeat,” which included a video of a heart beating in time to the powerful 4/4 beat, things started to get strange. A heavy techno thump began. Röyksopp’s band returned to the stage, dressed in silver balaclavas. A looped video of a giant, animated melting gray eye appeared. Berge and Brundtland next emerged in similar masks, each operating a small console equipped with a sampler. Robyn, now in a silver dress and carrying what appeared to be a medicine ball attached to her back, came to the stage, laid down spread-eagle between Berge and Brundtland on an elevated rack, and began writhing up and down to the beat.
The performance of “Sayit” was decisive to say the least. Some around me enjoyed the odd turn the evening took, while others were clearly let down Robyn chose robot Pilates than performing “Show Me Love” or even “Fembot.” Things didn’t ease up, either. During “The Girl and the Robot,” Berge put on a giant Daft Punk-esque helmet, jumped on the duo’s table, and started to take the spotlight away from Robyn.
She returned the favor during the group’s final song of the main set, the smashing “Do It Again,” as she climbed on their console table and led the remaining audience members who stayed through the birthing sequence and robot dance battle in chanting its three-word title. It was strange; it was wild, and best of luck to Darius Rucker and Yanni on trying to one-up that.