OAKLAND — The influence of Swedish singer-songwriter Robyn on thoughtful modern pop is everywhere, from the dramatic delivery and slick dancing of Christine and the Queens to the empowered writing of Billie Eilish. There’s the Girls reference, of course, and her fans’ keeping her music alive over the last decade. But Robyn herself has been largely absent from the stage since the tour for her 2010 Body Talk albums.
That changed when Robyn kicked off her tour supporting 2018 album Honey in Los Angeles over the weekend. The second stop of the tour was Oakland’s Fox Theater, and the first of two sold-out shows was a testament to the connection Robyn shares with her devoted fans, who kept her music alive in her absence.
Robyn appeared a minute after her band kicked things off with “Send to Robin Immediately,” the first of eight Honey cuts she performed (the album has nine songs in all). The stage was decorated in gauzy material, which covered most of the instrument stations on stage. The back of the stage was covered in sheer material as well, other than a circular gap on which video was projected. In all, it appeared as though the concert was taking place in the clouds (or possibly inside the lint compartment of a clothes dryer).
Robyn moved slowly, when she moved at all during the slow-building song, starting as a silhouette at the back of the stage and making her way down to the microphone. The slow start didn’t stay slow; the new album’s title track was next, and from that point on, the mood was lifted, and the singer was constantly in motion, twirling, gyrating and seemingly hovering a few inches above the stage. “Honey” transitioned into “Indestructible” and “Hang With Me,” from 2010’s Body Talk Pt. 2.
“Be Mine!,” from 2015’s self-titled album, was a moment of pure ecstatic joy sonically, making it was easy to miss the message: “You never were and never will be mine.” Around this time, Robyn pulled down one of the gauzy curtains raining from the ceiling and shortly after, disappeared from the stage while a dancer performed a shadowy ballet-like routine. When she returned, a minidress was replaced with a black and red outfit.
“Love Is Free” quickly evolved into a booty-shaking electronic dirge, toward the end of which Robyn appeared to subdue—or possibly baptize—her male dancer. The song lasted for around 10 minutes. If the first half of the show took place above the clouds, the second half was in a sweaty basement. And “Dancing on My Own” was a magical moment. Bathed in sepia tones, Robyn stepped away from the mic, and her band abruptly halted its performance, letting the crowd sing for a solid 30 seconds as one, without any accompaniment.
But “Dancing on My Own” was not the final climax; that came a couple of songs later on “Call Your Girlfriend,” during which the crowd sang even louder to match the intensity of the band and Robyn, who celebrated by performing a backward somersault. The encore consisted of the melancholy mid-tempo tune “Human Being,” the crowd-pleasing “With Every Heartbeat” and cover of opener Kindness’ “Who Do You Love?”
More than 20 years since her debut, Robyn has built an empowering, creatively lasting space in pop. Her mature music has the pop hooks, but it doesn’t rely on them. She has the stage presence of a diva, but that doesn’t define her. And her voice hasn’t lost a beat. Add to that the communal feeling her music has created for her fans, and a generation of people in general. Monday’s show was like a best friend finally returning for a hug.
Kindness, a collaborator, preceded the headliner with a DJ set, spinning Chic’s “I Want Your Love” and Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry.”
Funky R&B singer-songwriter Channel Tres opened the show backed by two dancers. While the Compton native’s set was short, it was memorable, including smooth singing and some spoken word delivery over thumping house beats and vibrating bass. The highlights included “Controller,” with some choreographed vogueing, banger “Glide,” the woozy “DSB” and poetic “Jet Black.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.