Better Than: Flying like paper and getting high like planes.
Between the beat cavalcade, the dizzying light show, the nonstop frenzy and a delivery so enigmatically unapologetic it could only be called her own, M.I.A.’s live show is a (mostly) successful demonstration in excess — and even then that’s an understatement. Having already performed one solid show at Terminal 5 before stopping by the (incredibly strange) YouTube Music Awards Sunday night, M.I.A. returned to the cavernous venue to properly celebrate Matangi, the hotly anticipated follow-up to 2010’s Maya (or // / Y /, if you want to the take twice as long to type the title out) with a show as incendiary as the lyrics it banks on. The setlist was generously split between Matangi’s track list and the more cultivated hits of M.I.A.’s catalog from her debut Arular and Kala after it, with the familiar bass lines of “Galang,” “Bamboo Banga,” “Boys” and “Paper Planes,” the single Pineapple Express co-opted and transformed into a summer anthem, before the close of the evening.
Though M.I.A. switched seamlessly between the old and new stuff, the night was not without its imperfections, and the her voice, more often than not, was the root of the problem. At her strongest, she climbed atop a speaker on the side of the stage, fanned herself nonchalantly, took a deafeningly quiet moment to announce Matangi‘s official debut and rally the crowd (“Do I have my warriors in the dance?!”) before leaping down only to work the front rows for every scream they had while giving her dancers a run for their money.
She spat, sneered, beamed, feigned shock and surprise and fury as she pushed back against the wall of noise booming in from behind her that continually closed in. It’s the insatiably addictive percussive lines that first draw M.I.A. fans in before they realize the might behind her lyrics — and M.I.A., at times, was overwhelmed by the cacophony surrounding her. (This isn’t entirely her fault and could’ve been a technical or engineering issue, as feedback was a problem throughout the night and there were several instances where you could barely hear her over the beat.) The loftier vocal lines escaped her as well, most noticeably with “Galang,” which fell flat where both the energy and tuning was concerned.
That said, perfect pitch isn’t the primary factor when an explosive talent is slaying the audience, bringing them up onstage with her for an impromptu dance party and making short of the trickier lines in her catalog. As such, the M.I.A. spectacle was just shy of being spectacular.
Critical Bias: “Galang” is such an infallible hit, one that elicits pumping fists and thrown limbs from even the least willing of dancers. It’s a crowd favorite and the notes may have fallen flat towards the end, but the crowd gave no indication that that was remotely an issue and fell all over themselves as soon as those telltale thumps hit the deck.
Overheard: “BUT THERE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE CONFETTI!!!!!” Two guys were trying to hail a cab on 57th and 9th who had clearly just come from T5, and one of them suddenly freaked, realizing that the barrage of lights and bass didn’t include a confetti shower at the end of “Bad Girls.” We’re talking bugged eyes, hands on head, legitimately distraught over the lack of confetti at the M.I.A. show. Sorry dude! Hope you enjoyed the music and stuff anyway.
Random Notebook Dump: “OoOoOoOoHh Weeknd!” It was great to see M.I.A. end the night with her recent two-track collaboration with The Weeknd as opposed to an expected closer, though it remains to be seen as to whether or not the final encore consisted of “Exodus” or “Sexodus.” (But seriously though they sound identical so if anyone’s got a set list, holler.)