Better Than: A boozeless show in a warehouse in Queens.
M.I.A. doesn’t make things easy. Whether you’re a fan, brand or corporation, the things she says, does or sings often force you to reassess your support: The same person who infamously flipped the bird during the Super Bowl — in an act of “rebellion”? — also places products in her videos. You get the feeling “rap star M.I.A.” (as the Daily News called her) wouldn’t have it any other way: Consistency is not her strong suit, but it doesn’t have to be.
Still, Maya’s big mouth distracts from her formidable talents as a songwriter, rapper and — possibly most of all — a visual artist, and there’s no question she’s rolled out some divinely hot singles in the 10 years (!) since she first emerged from the U.K. Not least, she’s worked herself into an enviable and near-unique position: How many other artists could headline one show with A$AP Ferg at the Knockdown Center — a converted (and liquor-license-challenged) factory in Queens — on Friday, and another with Solange as part of New York mag’s first Vulture Fest at Webster Hall on Saturday?
If there was any mention of elevator altercations with brothers-in-law during Solange’s set, we missed them (the video didn’t drop until Monday). Clad in a tricolor silky blouse-and-shorts number, topped by a giant bushy wig, Solange had the crowd bouncing from the jump. Festival-primed from her Coachella sets a couple of weeks back, she aired 10 songs, primarily from her 2012 mini-LP True, along with two covers: Kate Bush’s “Cloudbursting” and her famously silky take on Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is the Move.” But hot covers are problematic when they overshadow your originals, and True bears such distinctive fingerprints from cowriter/coproducer Dev Hynes (of Blood Orange) that — much as the crowd loved her, satisfying as the album is, much as we love the influence she seems to have on her big sister and brother-in-law — it’s hard to get a real sense of Solange the artist. Hopefully her long-promised next album, rumored to be due this summer on her Saint label, will give us a clearer sense of who this promising and undeniably cool singer actually is — no new material was aired on this night.
M.I.A.’s albums are bumpy rides — as soon as she hits a hot groove or a succulent melody, she seemingly does everything she can to draw an ugly face on it or simply reverse course — but her live show is about rocking the crowd. Backlit by a dazzling Indian-inspired backdrop and spotlights, clad in a symphony of orange — overalls, T-shirt, platform-heeled workboots, a soon-doffed pastel overcoat — she opened with a bullseye: “Bucky Done Gun,” a highlight from her debut LP Arular, then pumped, preened, posed and pounded through a hits-heavy dozen-or-so-song set: “Sunshowers,” “Boyz,” “Bring the Noise,” “Galang.” Throughout the second half of the set she barely let go of a red embroidered fan (and was still clutching it backstage after the show).
For the finales, as she did the night before, she brought several dozen crowdmembers onstage for “Paper Planes” (not so risky at the well-heeled Vulture Fest: nobody did anything more controversial than taking a selfie) and, not surprisingly, wrapped with “Bad Girls.” People seeking drama were the only ones who went home disappointed: There was no subtext and no controversy — just a satisfying set and a satisfied crowd.