Robyn | photo by Ashley Gellman for WXPN | agellmanphotos.com
Robyn’s Honey odyssey peaks with a victory lap at The Mann Center
We don’t deserve Robyn. Her music, her moves, her endless energy and empathy on stage, any of it. But we do need her. To see her perform live is to feel revived, cleansed of woes and worries both personal and communal, however temporarily. Any opportunity to dance it out with her in a space full of likeminded disciples is a gift. To see her three times? On a tour that has quickly pivoted from showcasing to celebrating what may go down as the album of her career? This provided the serendipitous opportunity to see one of this generation’s pop greats do what too few of her contemporaries can. From Washington, D.C. to Barcelona, and ultimately to Philadelphia, she took roughly the same set of songs and made them feel perfectly tailored for every unique space and crowd.
Philly, of course, was destined to stand out from the start. Not to be outdone by the D.C.’s exhilaratingly claustrophobic theatre space or the temperate seaside expanse of Primavera Sound, The Mann Center welcomed attendees with torrential thunderstorms that forced everyone into the TD Pavilion together. That kind of kickoff drama can’t be scripted, and the resulting vibe couldn’t be forgotten. The pavilion instantly transformed into a sweaty outdoor club, with everyone elbow to elbow waiting for the beat to drop. The curtain dropped first, of course, revealing the meticulous mise en scene on stage that has carried across the entire Honey Tour: white drapes bunched and braided over each other in a way that seemed spontaneous, a striking, solitary sculpture that appears to be two clasped hands before closer inspection reveals it to simply be a hand in motion (if ever there were an apt visual representation of Robyn’s music, that’s it), a sheer curtain that flows over the front of the stage as the band members assume position and fog begins to fill the venue. Even without the rain, the feeling of a different kind of storm brewing was palpable.
Then we heard her voice, off stage at first cutting through the lights and the audience screams like a beam of light with the opening line of “Send to Robin Immediately.” “If you’ve got something to say, I need to hear it”. The theme couldn’t be clearer: the anticipation of release, the mutual need for connection. That’s a core theme of the Honey album, and despite opening each date on the tour, it was particularly apropos for Philly given the eight year eternity between stops here. From there, the song’s synths proceeded to cascade in sync with the falling water outside and chart a nearly seamless segue into the title track, which bloomed into indomitable Body Talk fave “Indestructible,” during which Robyn stepped forward and dramatically ripped the sheer curtain to the ground. Another key theme of the album made literal: breaking down the barriers you create for yourself.
From there, as with every other date, we were treated to a selection of rotating hits and hit-worthy album cuts that most artists spend decades trying to compile. “Hang With Me” was back in the mix after being mysteriously absent from her festival headlining set, as was lovable oddity “Beach 2k20”, which introduced Philly to the tour’s secret weapon: a charismatic backup dancer who by this point had an almost preternatural chemistry with his singer, whether they were twirling together through “Because It’s in the Music” or literally wiping the floor with each other during the climax of “Between the Lines.”
This was followed by the undeniable highlight of each date, a breathless run through of the La Bagatelle Magique banger “Love Is Free,” complete with a live guest verse from the song’s MVP Maluca. She popped up in D.C. too, but the verve of her presence was even more visceral and contagious here. It was a small miracle that the crowd had any energy left to dance to a remixed “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” afterwards.
Then it was time for what we all knew was coming at this point. The viral videos of everyone singing “Dancing On My Own” back to Robyn on this tour are already myriad, but that fact didn’t make the moment feel any less potent when Philly got a turn. It also didn’t dull the singer’s clearly moved reaction, who warmly thanked the crowd before bringing the beat back. The moment rivaled a similar one at Primavera in magnitude but surpassed it in intimacy. The sense of climax sustained through “Missing U” and “Call Your Girlfriend,” completing an indelible trifecta of anthems about loss and resilience to close the main set.
The encore was where Robyn proved her savvy with reading a room best across dates. D.C. saw her workshopping new versions of “Stars 4-Ever” and Mr. Tophat two hander “Trust Me,” while she opted to just cut to the chase with all-timer “With Every Heartbeat” in Spain. That song filled the pavilion with the same bittersweet warmth that it filled the festival air with, but it couldn’t be the end this time.
Continuing to pay tribute to the underrated collaborations she fostered between her own albums, she treated us to a new version of “Who Do You Love,” a funky number she released with Kindness back in 2014 and a tongue-in-cheek way to send us back out into the night. As Robyn threw roses out to the crowd and each individual member of her troupe exited stage left, the titular question was clearly one she already knew the answer to. It also arguably doubled as a challenge to everyone there: love yourself and each other with this kind of fervor.
Indeed, each time seeing Robyn this year felt like a necessary exercise in self love right when I needed it, whether it was coming out of a particularly bleak and stressful winter, taking a long overdue international vacation, or simply joining fellow Philadelphians in sharing a moment we were worried we wouldn’t get when the initial wave of tour dates left us out. It’s a moment that Robyn is clearly extending both for herself and her fans, and it’s a moment well deserved. Seize the moment and see her when you get the chance. Love yourself.
Send to Robin Immediately
Hang With Me
Because It’s in the Music
Between the Lines
Love Is Free
Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do
Dancing on My Own
Call Your Girlfriend
With Every Heartbeat
Who Do You Love?