CMJ Thursday: M.I.A.

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Last night M.I.A. hit Terminal 5 running, boasting a live act that does justice to the big, up tempo beats and progressive rhymes of her studio material.

Performing in front of three giant screens broadcasting choppy dance numbers and gun parades that would make T.I. blush, M.I.A. led the revolution, draped in an over-sized glittery silver jacket and M. Bison's hat, she ran through much of her catalogue to a noticeably mixed crowd; business men, NYU kids, hip hoppers, hipsters and clubbers all packed in to chant her set opening “Bamboo Banger”. It's an unlikely army she leads, but it was apparent she knew how to handle her show. It's not often you see a concert where entertainers don't constantly clamor for people to put their hands up in hopes feigned excitement will suddenly make everything fun. Last night there was no need for strained formalities; the crowd was hers from the start.

Only a few months ago M.I.A. played the more modestly sized Studio B in Greenpoint, but last night she sold out a West Side Manhattan concert hall with ease. Attribute this to her recent critically acclaimed album “Kala” and her reputation for a good live show. Against projected visuals of riots, bombs, guns and world leaders, she and her hype-woman marched around the stage delivering older favorites like “Pull Up The People,” “10 Dollar” and “Galang” while mixing in new tracks like “Jimmy” and “$20”. Afrikan Boy came through to do his part for “Hussel” and, midway through the show, she pulled dozens of audience members up on stage for her performance of “Bird Flu”.

What is M.I.A.'s plan for her career? If she isn't making conscious decisions to stay on an underground level, then it seems inevitable that she'll only continue her rise. There's no telling what sized venue she'll be selling out next time she hits New York, but if things are going up, there aren't too many options left.

Words by Nick Graham
Photos by Tront