Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Robyn and Röyksopp "Do It Again" at the Hollywood Bowl

Los Angelinos often joke about our limited notions of architectural history ("the columns date back all the way to 1972!"), and indeed the Hollywood Bowl, erected in 1922, is one of the city's most elderly monuments. The famed amphitheater, among the oldest in the country, has proven a remarkably apt venue for styles of performance its creators couldn't have anticipated, particularly rock (the Beatles, the Doors, and Genesis all had notable concerts there). But despite a major acoustic overhaul in 2003, the Bowl remains fundamentally unsuited to the modern electronic pop concert, with its particular demands in sound and showmanship. While most such acts wisely stick to the more apropos venues in town, some have let the allure and glamor of the historic venue overrule practical concerns, and the result is too often a bit of a letdown.  

Robyn dances on her own during the new "Do It Again" tour
Robyn and Röyksopp met such a fate in October 2011, but that didn't stop them from returning Sunday night for round two and largely, if not entirely, conquering the sold-out arena with a thrillingly offbeat electronic disco burlesque show appropriately called "Do It Again."

The electronic twosome Röyksopp, who had a better outing the first time around than their Swedish tour-mate since the darker October night allowed their lights-and-lasers staging to have full effect, seemed resigned this time to a more subdued, and far less dramatic, opening solo set. Backed, interestingly, by several of the same musicians who would later play for Robyn's more pop-based set, the Norwegian duo performed something between a DJ set and a laid-back acoustic reinterpretation of their catalogue; recognizable tunes like "Happy Out Here" floated by more as suggestions rather than deliberate musical statements. While their 2011 Bowl set was an immersive sound and light experience that demanded attention, Röyksopp's set on Sunday played more as pleasant, mood-setting entrance music.

Then there came a strange, significant power shift as Robyn took the stage, stumbling over the opening lines of her 2005 hit "Be Mine," apparently (though not noticeably) out of sync with her band. Then, with a laugh and a gracious, patient smile to the audience, she righted the ship and sailed ahead with unshaken confidence. From that moment on, the Hollywood Bowl stage was Robyn's bitch. The vulnerable, overwhelmed, (and, I'm convinced, almost certainly ill) Robyn of October 2011 was but a distant memory - in fact, the Robyn on stage Sunday night looked like she might have eaten her for lunch.

She certainly dressed the part: in a cutoff red hoodie with one cutoff sleeve, black UFC boxing shorts, knee pads, shin guards, and basketball shoes, like Little Red Riding Hood going snowboarding. The effect was topped off with dramatic Amy Winehouse-style black eye makeup and a serious Ziggy Stardust mullet - David Bowie meets Cathy Rigby as Peter Pan. Her set was equally fearless: she performed at least two completely new songs in the first ten minutes, and doled out the requisite Body Talk hits to the ravenous audience like Kate Mulgrew in Orange is the New Black. At one point, she let the crowd sing the chorus to her Body Talk hit "Dancing On My Own," in complete silence, as she mimed the backwards self-hug thing from the video.

Photo credit Ann Powers
By far the highlight of the night, though, was the final collaborative set, which took the evening from enjoyable to intense. Robyn, now dressed as a silver sparkly ninja turtle in Lady Gaga-in-Alexander McQueen shoes, began "SayIt," from the new EP, lying on her back with her legs spread toward the audience, and began doing Pilates, thrusting her pelvis up into the air as though fucking the floor all those times had gotten her pregnant and she was giving birth to the incomprehensible bionic offspring. Later, during delicious performances of Robyn and Röyksopp's great first collaboration, "The Girl and the Robot," and "Monument," the opening track of the new EP, her Bowie act morphed into a late Madonna tribute, with the elfin blonde singer doing a fan dance, then crawling and sliding and writhing all over the stage in a silver top that looked not unlike a cone bra. And this wasn't familiar music she was doing this to, nor particularly accessible, certainly not typical for the end of a dance pop concert - yet the bewildered audience hung on, like a rodent hypnotized by a snake.

Watching the encore of Robyn and Röyksopp's Body Talk collaboration "None Of Dem," I thought about what imbued Robyn in this show with the magnetic power I've seen her wield in smaller club venues but had not before translated to the vast outdoors of the Hollywood Bowl. Her costuming has always held multifaceted significance, making statements at once blunt (I'm a fighter/I'm a freak) and subtle (my entire body is covered but you know what's underneath). The segments of skin she chose to bare - upper thighs in the first set, the right side of her back in the second - speak to the creed she set out in the transformative 2005 single "Who's That Girl": "I'm only sexy when I say it's okay." Indeed, the entire manner in which she moves her body emblematizes a woman in absolute and total command of her sexuality. Few of the ways she would curl her back or shake her ass or thrust her chest would in themselves seem especially sexy - Terry Richardson would never direct an underwear-clad model that way - but the attitude of "This is what I think is sexy, not what you want" is a bold, powerful statement that ultimately proves intimidating and bizarrely sexy.

Near the end of the night, as Robyn was melting all over the stage floor while the two amiable gents of Röyksopp, in chain-mail hoods, played the nine-minute electronic dirge "Monument," I looked around at the sellout crowd and felt my heart lift. I was among 18,000 young American yuppies who had come (and paid!) to the Hollywood Bowl to see the weird shit that two relatively fringe-y European acts had come to put on stage in support of a not-terribly-accessible experimental electronic pop EP, and by and large seeming to buy into it eagerly in a way I've never known a crowd like that to be. It looks like there's hope for our generation yet.

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