February 6, 2011

Robyn / Diamond Rings / Natalia Kills - February 5, 2011 - Radio City Music Hall

On Friday, I bought my ticket to see Robyn at cost from someone on Craiglist. Even though I wasn't as close to the stage as I would have liked, Orchestra B413 was a pretty decent seat. Being on the isle I felt pretty much like I was in the center of the room, which was good for sound as well as sight.  My seat made me proud of my Craigslist purchase.

I got to my seat in Radio City Music Hall approximately 5 minutes prior to Natalia Kills opening set. As usually happens, the audience filtered in slowly during the two opening performances. However, by the time Robyn got on stage, the hall seemed filled to capacity. From where I was sitting, the audience seemed equal parts gay and straight. Both fractions looked like they would be clubbing after the show, which made Robyn's concert the party before the party.

Natalia Kills
Looking very sexy in a jacket that looked like a one piece dress, Kills said "Hello Sweethearts, my name is Natalia Kills." Maybe it's because I knew what was coming after, but I appreciated that Kills opened up her set with an acoustic version of her song "Mirror." By acoustic I mean that she sang live, while someone actually played keyboard behind her. Nowadays, the dance world calls "acoustic" what I would call "live" but I guess it's the same difference.

Two dancers came out to dance behind Kills for the three songs that followed Kills acoustic opening ballad. Kills quasi dominatrix outfit and the two scantly dressed dancers made me feel like I was watching the same dance video for the kabillionth time. Together, the three were fun and cute but nothing special. Instead of the dancers, I probably would have preferred it if the keyboard player had stayed and boogied along with the backing music tracks.

Besides her opening song, Kills best moments were when she spoke to the audience in her regional British accent. Before doing "Love is a Suicide," Kills told the audience that she had been a long time fan of Robyn's and wanted to see her play in London when she was sixteen. As a lead in to her song, Kills said she probably spent the money she could have used on a ticket to see Robyn, to buy guns. It was chuckle.

Kills last song, which was actually the dance version of her first, had the same spoken part where she sort of chants the words - "Sex, Love, Control,Vanity." When she recited the words for the opening ballad version, I found it interesting and dramatic. But when she recited the same words for the dance version they just sounded stupid. Not that it really matters, I'm sure their is someone who thinks the opposite of what I just stated.

Kills said goodnight and told the crowd she would meet them "out there somewhere in the back" if they wanted to buy CDs. She then walked off stage with the track still playing. I was tempted to see what she looked like up close but I was too lazy to get out of my seat.

Natalie Kills is a dynamic vocalist with a great on stage presence. It will be interesting to see where her career goes. One or two more songs would have been nice; Her four song set felt like it went by in a blink of an eye.

Natalia Kills Set List
1. Mirrors (with only live piano accompaniment )
2. Wonderland
3. Love Is a Suicide
4. Mirrors

Diamond Rings
I was excited about seeing Diamond Rings, who's actual name is John O'Reagan. (Did he add the O? If my last name had Reagan included it in it, you could bet I would have it legally changed!) When I saw the pictures of him on his Myspace page, I thought he looked more like a boyish lesbian than an androgynous gay man. But when I heard his low masculine voice I automatically thought of Phil Oakey from Human League.

I got to see Diamond Rings/O'Reagan's outfit as he set up for his performance. O'Reagan wore a pink sleeveless shirt, tight shiny gold pants and what looked like white socks and sneakers. I wasn't close enough to see his makeup but his haircut was a sort of short semi blonde faux hawk.  When he came out for his actual set, O'Reagan wore a blue leather jacket.  O'Reagan's height and dress made him look like Joey Ramone's and Cindy Lauper's long lost child. (Can you say 80's car crash?)

O'Reagan began his set by kicking off a sequencer track from his electronic equipment. The table or rack which O'Reagan's equipment was on was hidden behind a black card with the logo and name Diamond Rings. From the audience view, the card made it look as if O'Reagan were standing at a podium. O'Reagan played keyboard parts in between basically miming the first song, "Play My Heart" as he sang it.

"Play My Heart" is also the opening song to Diamond Rings' Special Affections CD. O'Reagan's music totally reminded me of many 80's artists. For the first song O'Reagan's vocals reminded me of Glenn Gregory from Heaven 17 but musically most all of his songs reminded me of OMD (Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark) and early Depeche Mode.

After his second song ,O'Reagan responded to an audience member by saying "I love you too;" then he said to the audience "that was my Mom." (It could have been anyone but I actually believed him). The 3rd song "You Oughta Know" consisted of a really cool keyboard part and kick drum for most of the song, except for when  O' Reagan played the drum pads to the right of his keyboard setup.

O'Reagan played guitar for the next two songs, complete with rock and roll stances and affectations.  Both songs had more of a raw punk guitar to them, though the guitar part on "Wait and See" felt like it leaned toward a reggae feel which it doesn't do on the recording.  O'Reagan knelled on the floor and played guitar on his back during"Something Else." At the end of the song, O'Reagan  slammed down his guitar and let the distortion ring out.

O'Reagan ended his set with the very pop "You and Me"   He did his quirky  marching dance steps and exaggerated emoting through the song as he had done through most of his set.  O'Reagan said goodnight and thank you but stayed on stage fiddling with his equipment until the open curtain behind him closed. (He might have had a more effective ending had he left and come back to do what he had to do with his equiment. )

My clubbing days were in the 80's, so I cannot go without stating that I really loved Diamond Rings. He does 80's with a very contemporary twist and with more importantly a sense of humor.

Diamond Rings Set List
Play By Heart
On Our Own
You Oughta Know
Wait and See
Something Else
You and Me
In 1987, I went to stay with friends in London for my thirtieth birthday. While I was there, my friend Maria's husband Angus said he was surprising his wife with tickets to see Madonna and would I mind tagging along. I wasn't a Madonna fan but I didn't want to rain on Maria's parade, so off we went and saw the show. Though I didn't want to admit it, I loved the entire show and remember thinking that Madonna worked!! It was Madonna's True Blue Tour and I especially remember her singing "Open Your Heart" and "Tale to Tell."

As I watched Robyn on Saturday night, I had the same good time feeling I had when I saw Madonna at Wembley. I couldn't stop thinking that of all the dance divas out there, that Robyn is the one who reminded me most of Madonna(Sorry Lady Gaga).  Robyn is a small woman who looked so comfortable on the Radio City Stage, it was as if she owned it. I'm sure what I saw in Robyn was experience gained from more than fifteen years of performing but it was nonetheless impressive.

Robyn's set started with the lights going down and the curtain opening. A futuristic sounding voice over of a countdown started to play as Robyn's 4 backing musicians walked on stage to man their instruments.  As the two drummers and two keyboardists played the intro to "Time Machine,"  Robyn appeared taking what seemed like a long walk from the back of the stage (upstage) forward to front and center.  Robyn was wearing a light brown jacket with a clear plastic strip that separated the top and the bottom of the jacket. On her feet, Robyn was wearing high platform shoes which made me often wonder how she managed to dance so well. But I guess she was as used to her platform shoes as women are often used to wearing high heels. By the end of her first song, the jacket was off.  Underneath the jacket was an interesting green and white outfit.

The first song went directly into"Fembots" and the major amount of spotlights strobed over the bands head. Robyn danced across stage intermittenly breaking in with some hip-hop style dance moves.  Once Robyn started her vocal the audience was there singing along with her.  As expected, there was the same sort of effect on Robyn's vocals for the song as there is on the recording.

I found it surprising that there were a lot of background vocals added to Robyn's vocals but there was not a background vocalist in sight.  Were the background vocals canned or was there a chorus effect on Robyn's mic?  And along with that observation, I couldn't often tell whether music parts were pre-recorded or programed or if they were actually being played by the keyboard players.  It didn't take long before I let that all go, it was a dance concert - it was about having fun and partying. Who was playing what was unimportant.  (At least from an audience perspective).

When Robyn did her cover of "Cobrastyle," she took her cue from the original's Jamaican style rapping or toasting, which made her lyrical phrasing sound like Beyonce's.  Robyn's arrangement is really cool, she has the keyboard play a repeated melodic phrase throughout the song and does the song faster than the original. At one point in the middle of the song, Markus Jägerstedt on keys took a solo around the melodic phrase after Robyn said "Markus take it away!"

Robyn's set was a good time for all from beginning to end and the audience did not need any prompting to party.  (Audience members were told to stop dancing in the isles and get back to there seats quite a few times by Radio City staff.) The audience cheered and sang along with most songs Robyn sang. But it was especially amazing when the the  audience sang "Dancing on My Own" to the point where they were completely audible above band's loud sound for the entire song.

The audience often cheered when Robyn would break into hyper-sexual moves like the downward grind she did with her hips during "We Danced To The Beat."   There was a naughty bit during "The Girl and the Robot."  Robyn stood on the edge of shirtless drummer Povel Olsson's platform in front to the kick drum.  Since he was standing behind her and she was bent over grinding her hips, from the audience perspective, it looked like they were &!?*ing. The audience cheered for that part as well.

Robyn also did the almost obligatory walk up on the side tiers toward Radio City's first mezzanine. She walked up the audience-right side tiers to grab a few hands in the mezzanine during "Love Kills." Then she stopped on one of the tiers with the spotlight on her to sing the lines "Mmm and I know you're into deep, Use to think of me sometimes.  Stockholm syndrome in misery, There's a penalty for love crimes."  When she got back to the stage Robyn said "New York, New York - Love is hard."  Robyn later diplomatically ran up the audience-left tiers during the encore song "Hang With Me," but that time she did it with less fanfare.

Robyn's set had a club atmosphere which I mainly attribute to the lights. There were lot's of spots hung on diagonal rods above stage right and left.  The spots turned, strobed and changed colors through the entire show.  After "Indestructible"  and before "Call Your Girlfriend" the lights were flooded onto the audience which made an already excited audience cheer and applaud even louder.  During the latter mentioned song, after grabbing a few audience hands on stage right, Robyn fell while dancing.  A stage hand helped her up and off she went continuing to dance as if the fall never happened. (I bet dollars to donuts that most of the audience will not remember it even happened.)

During the first encore it occurred to me that the reason I found Robyn to be like early Madonna was that many of her songs have a feel-good and fuzzy-inside or a sometimes sentimental quality to them.  Especially with songs like "With Every Heartbeat," which ended her first encore. Part of the lyric is "Still I'm dying with every step I take, but I don't look back, and it hurts with every heartbeat." Before the song Robyn said "This is the biggest audience we played so far, thank you for having us." During the song the audience swayed with their hands in the air. (see what I mean...warm fuzzy feelings!)

At the end of the first encore the lights and sound went crazy working up to a frenzy before they stopped. The audience cheered loudly for a second encore. (I knew a second encore was coming because she has done the same set for most of the tour). The second encore opened up with just the band. Keyboardist, Robert Elovsson sang the refrain to the song "You Should Know Better" a few times, then Robyn came back out and sang the lead vocal.  The song's recording has fast rockin' tempo but for Saturday night's performance the arrangement had a downtempo feel to it.  I actually like both arrangements.

Robyn's second to last song had a 50s sounding beat to it.  The song,"Konichiwa Bitches," reminded me of songs from artists like Janelle Monet or VV Brown.  Robyn did an intro with an almost accapella nod to Abba's "Dancing Queen" before ending with the song that made her well known in the states, "Show Me Love."  

I have only two things to say to conclude this posting about Robyn's set - I love, love, loved it and I had a good time. 

Robyn Set List
Time Machine
Cobrastyle (Teddybears cover)
Dancing on My Own
We Dance to the Beat
Don't Fucking Tell Me What to Do
Love Kills
The Girl and the Robot
Call Your Girlfriend
Stars 4-Ever

Encore One:
Get Myself Together
Dancehall Queen
Hang With Me
With Every Heartbeat

Encore Two:
U Should Know Better
Konichiwa Bitches
Dancing Queen (Abba Cover used as intro to:) Show Me Love

The Band
Robyn (Miriam Carlsson) - Vocals
Markus Jägerstedt - Keyboards
Robert Elovsson - Keyboards
Tobias Tagesen - drums
Povel Olsson- drums

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