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Wednesday, October 6
These days, going to see M.I.A. perform comes with a healthy dose of trepidation. For loyalists — those who choose to blame her rather tumultuous year mostly on bad luck — last night’s long-awaited free show was yet another hopeful attempt to qualify our love. Tonight was technically brought about as reparations for a poorly executed set at this year’s HARD Fest (note: HARD had nothing to do with it), and maybe even as a reminder that M.I.A.’s wealth does not make her a sell-out (if that’s even possible). Perhaps it was an attempt to coax back the die-hard fans who’ve read all about her tormented summer and started to fade out of idol-worship.
Whatever her motives, the plan worked — the approximately 1,500 people waiting outside Brooklyn Bowl last night (only 600 made it in) proved that she has nothing to worry about on the fan front. Some had been in line since 2 p.m., seven and a half hours before the doors would even open, and while they braved it with smiles and jokes (read our interviews with a few die-hards here), a nervous, unspoken question remained: Would the wait be worth it?
Yes, it would. Turns out that the M.I.A. we swoon for is back. Let’s be honest: While her political activism and somewhat controversial family lineage surely add to the novelty of it all, we’re not turning to Maya for her lyrical depth. Someone must have hipped her to that fact, as this is quite certainly what separated last night’s performance from the three others we’ve attended this summer. With a dance artist — and she is a dance artist — confidence and execution is what wins us over, and won us over tonight. There was no overwhelming statement made via moody backup singers or over-staged dialogue. There was no rallying cry or government-directed diatribe. Instead, the main focus tonight was dancing, partially thanks to her opening act, Rye Rye.
When we last saw Rye Rye at the HARD Festival, she was proud to declare herself M.I.A.’s protege. We won’t sell her quite that short. While the young rapper shares Maya’s obsession with leggings and bold tribal prints, the strongest common denominator here is a shared producer, Blaqstarr. Where her mentor tends to ride out a beat that ultimately ends in some sort of catchy hook, Rye Rye spits off fast, vaguely suggestive verses, those two approaches finally merging with her new single, “Sunshine.” The teenage rapper performed it solo last night, quipping “I can get your man, too” while wafting from the speakers, a sing-songy Maya crooned a chorus about schoolyard jealousies. Rye’s brassiness continued as she rapped about flying high during a visit with a “Witch Doctor,” commanded a dance club in “Hardcore Girls” and “Shake It To The Ground,” and finally showed her youth in sassy teen-friendly tracks “Wassup Wassup” and a DJ Sega rendition of Miley’s “Party in the USA.” The girl does not stop to breathe. Every lyrical break was filled with quick, elaborate dance routines complete with backup dancers, her own striped sneakers, gold leggings, and over-sized sequined sweater serving as onstage workout gear.
And then, M.I.A.’s triumphant return. There was something about the Sri Lankan’s signature slanted snarl that radiated confidence as she took the stage — a credit to the chant of “M.I.A.” that echoed through the room, or her knowing that her husband was standing on the sidelines. The singer’s presence filled the room immediately as she catapulted around in a silky patterned getup and stockings to “World Town,” writhed to the ground during “Galang,” and leaned into the crowd for a sing-along to “Sunshowers.” She made certain she’d have no technical issues this time around, either — we watched her work a sampler and tweak DJ Asma’s soundboard herself. In fact, the headliner played every role at this show, laying down the mic to pull overeager fans onstage (to the anxious frowns of security) during “Boyz,” and handing off the microphone to the audience before diving into the mass of sweaty, dancing fans during “Bamboo Banga.” “We don’t have much of a setlist tonight,” she joked before launching into “XR2” and causing an even more frenzied stage mass, this time to hide Maya from security as she climbed onto a perch above an exit to dance above the audience. These are the kind of bad decisions we’re okay with her making.
While a bottle of Patron did make an appearance during the encore of “Tequila,” it was only cause for celebration, not trepidation, this time wrapped in foil and gently passed into the audience for free sampling. As expected, “Paper Planes” closed out the night, thrilling especially those patrons who’d now spent 12 hours of their day on this. Maya took note — “Thank you so much for coming!” she exclaimed while shaking hands with as many folks in the front row as she could. “My mum’s not here!” she added before leaving for good; we’re glad she left that statement for the very end.