At House of Blues, Robyn soars and Kelis bores
Robyn has come this close to becoming a mainstream pop star in this country — twice, even. The Swedish singer-songwriter had two Top 10 hits in the mid-’90s — “Show Me Love,’’ “Do You Know (What It Takes)’’ — and for her second act, she resurfaced in 2005 as an electro-pop diva with a hardened outlook on love and a whole new fan base.
At the House of Blues Tuesday night, it was clear that Robyn doesn’t need to top the charts ever again. She seems fully formed — a dance-pop dynamo who wears her heart on her sleeve — and she’s more than content with a devout following that nearly sold out the venue and kept her dance party bobbing till the last encore.
Playing songs from her new album, “Body Talk Pt. 1,’’ Robyn walked a fine line between heartache and defiance. “I’m in the corner/ Watching you kiss her/ I’m right over here/ Why can’t you see me?’’ she sang on “Dancing on My Own.’’
That was a fleeting moment of self-doubt, though; Robyn was more interested in survival on songs such as “Cobrastyle’’ and “Dancehall Queen.’’ As her two drummers and two keyboardists cued the beats, she rolled with the jittery bounce of “Konichiwa [Expletive],’’ boasting, “You wanna rumble in my jungle/ I’ll take you on.’’
Only on the encore did Robyn’s past rear its head, with a minimalist rendition of “Show Me Love.’’ Even though it felt out of step with her current material, the song united the crowd in a singalong, a sweet reminder of just how far Robyn’s fans have come with her.
That intense audience connection was sorely missing in Kelis’s co-headlining set earlier in the evening. (To the crowd’s chagrin, she and Robyn never performed together, aside from Kelis’s brief cameo at the end of the night to take another bow with Robyn.)
Backed by two DJs and a drummer, Kelis had a shaky start, her voice far too soft to pack a punch until she savored the slinky R&B of “Millionaire’’ (“Mama, I’m a millionaire/But I feel like a bum’’).
Her latest release, “Flesh Tone,’’ revamped Kelis as a futuristic dance diva from the Donna Summer mold, but her performance on Tuesday had none of the album’s infectious thump and grind. “22nd Century’’ was a pale shade of the original, and when she cleverly mashed up her biggest hit, “Milkshake,’’ with Madonna’s “Holiday,’’ it felt elliptical, almost obligatory.
Amid her new songs (“Emancipate,’’ “Scream’’), she peppered the set list with odd bits of karaoke — Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),’’ Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name.’’ It was as if Kelis knew from the start that the performance would never lift off.
“I don’t rehearse generally,’’ she said matter-of-factly after the first song. “So if you’re feeling particularly critical, this show probably isn’t for you.’’
James Reed can be reached at email@example.com.