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M.I.A. At Terminal 5, Friday, November 1st, 2013, Reviewed

M.I.A. where the beats meet the pedals

M.I.A. where the beats meet the pedals

The difference between M.I.A. and Lady Gaga, Madonna, Miley Cyrus Katy Perry and  many others is that Maya Arulpragasam is an artist and the other names are pop stars. Maybe M.I.A. wants to be a popstar, but she isn’t one: she is a prickly sound merchant and at Terminal 5. in the tightest of 70 minutes sets, she became a living Vicki Leekx mixtape (Julian Assange would open the concert on Skype!). A seamless soundtrack to the Sri Lakan’s up against the wall dance revolution.

Or perhaps she became a DJ set with real people.

Nearly entirely tuneless, samples under beds of drums and distortions, and beats springing out from beats, and M.I.A. herself speak singing -it’s not quite rapping, over and sometimes within a wall of sound, the English Sri Lankan 38 year old musician, who was raised in crushing like going hungry poverty to having a son with, getting engaged to and breaking up with the son of one of the most powerful men in the music business, brings it all but leaves it on the stage floor while she wraps herself in deep intuitive self-knowing sounds.

Terminal 5 was fun Friday night because it was not sold out (M.I.A.’s Monday gig is sold out) so you could actually see and hear and what you heard was tracks from her completely excellent Matangi. And what you saw was M.I.A. dressed for most of the show in a gold jumpsuit and with two backing dancers, a synth programmer, a drum kit, a colorful stage with what may be Buddhists symbol as well as the albums name across the stage. The lights went  down for a set piece with five people swirling their hips with neon multi colored hoola hoops. All the while, and I mean ALL THE WHILE, she is moving, dancing, crouching, inviting audience members on stage , and moving those hips in time to the shudder shudder shudder beats.

The set is relentless brilliance, the new songs we know, “Y.A.L.A.” and “Bring The Noise” mid set, “Bad Girls” and “Come Walk With Me” at the end. A massive singalong to a new  song I didn’t ‘t know so I don’t how how they did, “Warriors” with its self-mything shout out. Gone are the politics and she doesn’t storm off stage or kick photographers; she is a concentrated force of nature. It is a seamless masterpiece of dance rhythms. It isn’t like any one and no one else is doing this.

The effect is thoroughly entertaining, what we lose in concert structure and songs as songs, we gain everywhere else, it is an act of musical transportation. “Paper Planes”, the pop pop pop hook, is the most fan friendly moment but it doesn’t raise above the set, everything is like one long song and every beat switches and changes. “Galang” is greeted with howls of pleasure and “World Town” is the closest she gets to a throw down, with the fans representing on demand though it isn’t much of a throw down any way. The only change of pace is the encore opening “Lovalot”, a sheer pleasure on the album, it is so quiet I thought the tech guys had screwed up the sound level on M.I.A.’s microphone.

I’ve been waiting to see M.I.A. for years and years, I am a huge fan. What she does, new world order beats with Sri Lakan deep Middle Eastern flavors and layered beats and rhythm, toxic samples and the occasional melody, is  simply miles ahead of everybody else. Everybody chased her hard around 2007 and watered it down for mass consumption, but she remained on top of her game and while Pitchfork were trashing 2010’s  superb though dark MAYA album, she had moved on to Vicki Leekz, one of the best mixtapes ever.

The thing to keep in mind about M.I.A. is, like Charles Dickens, Will I Am, and my own father, she spent much of her childhood in “big time poverty” and what does to people is shake them to their very foundations and build into their worldview extreme and intense distrust of people. It left M.I.A. an abrasive noise merchant and lone star conspirator who always sees the microphone under the bed taping and stealing from her. It makes M.I.A. lonely in a way a DJ is alone  and on stage at T5 she has all these samples running up against her and it doesn’t sound like, but the instincts are similar to, any major DJ: it all jumps towards heavy programmed rhythms and M.I.A. and her band are connecting backwards in an old fashioned sense, through dance and music. Sri Lanka was colonized in the 1500s and only became independent in 1948 and there is something about colonized countries, about being Indian and not England, or Ceylon, that speaks to a jumbled sense of power and its appropriation and  that speaks to M.I.A.’s displaced rhythms, to her appropriation of hip hop and her own Indian flavored Bollywood samples.

Quarter of the way through the set I notice she is rapping “Bamboo Banha” -the “Road Runner” rethink, and sprinkling the audience with colored dust, then the back up singers begin to undulate beneath, the male dancer takes off his shirt and dances across the stage and M.I.A. shakes her hips like a belly dancer, everybody on the stage and everybody in the audience are in various forms of beat intoxication. From the crushing deep pain of being dirt poor to the punishing deep pain of success, M.I.A. holds her paranoia like a weapon but she let it drop for 70 minutes at T5 and the result was a long song of release from colonies and racism, money and Western power, where M.I.A., in a crown and red hot pants by the end of the show, builds her world behind the beatings upon beatings of a place where the third and the first world meets.

Grade: A

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