M.I.A. Comes Back With Power: Review by Sarah Askari

Categories: Concert Review

M.I.A. at First Avenue
Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007
Review by Sarah Askari
Photos by Daniel Corrigan

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M.I.A. mixed music with imagery at First Ave. on Tuesday.


Last week, a survey of NYU students revealed that two-thirds of 'em would give up their right to vote in the next election in exchange for a year's tuition. Democracy received a similar beating during the intro to M.I.A.'s show at First Ave. A sold-out crowd cheered along to videos of a Pacific Rim talking head recommending violent regime change: "Voting is of no use! The majority will trample on the rights on the minority!"

M.I.A. is a film school grad who hit the indie rock jackpot by combining the aesthetics of armed revolution and Dance Dance Revolution. I'm more of a Ghandi/MLK person myself, but Maya's machine-gun samples and guerilla warfare drum cadences are too playfully joyous to protest against.

She took the stage, tiny face hidden behind sunglasses and hair, little legs covered in hideous, garishly-printed leggings, and launched into "Bamboo Banga." Her records--2005's Arular and this year's Kala, are a gigantic explosion of sound, crazy samples blowing up like fireworks with her own voice howling above them. The last time I saw her, her stage presence wasn't big enough to replicate the energy of the recorded tracks. This time, a humongous screen played M.I.A. art videos behind her, letting her dominate the room vicariously. Even though she's a more charismatic performer now, she's still not a spotlight-on-me type of girl. She's more of a "let-a-fog-machine-fill-the-room-and-the-next-time-you-see-me-I'll-be-bodysurfing-over-the-crowd" type of girl.

Girls rule at M.I.A. shows, by the way. In Technicolor tights and keffiyehs, they danced up on the stage, back by the merch table, and in circles around their rigid boyfriends. And not just pale Scandisota hipster chicks, either. M.I.A. speaks to the world's displaced peoples, the looked-over and pushed-out. Granted, most Hmong and Somali girls are not rocking out to Piracy Funds Terrorism. But when they pulled up the people to dance on stage, the mix was surprisingly multi-culti.

The hits from the new record- "Bird Flu," "Boyz," "Jimmy," "Paper Planes," didn't disappoint, but the chorus on Arular's "Sunshowers" kind of sucked--it's sung rather than rapped, and no one on stage had the chops for it. For me, the most exhilarating number was "Galang," when the entire crowd shouted those "Ya Ya Heeeeey"s over and over again, hypnotized, ecstatic, ready to follow M.I.A. into -- well, not battle, exactly, but perhaps even the most menacing of dance-offs.

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