Love her or hate her, M.I.A.‘s September 30th performance in Chicago proved that the controversial artist knows how to put on a show. After the release of her underwhelming latest effort, // / Y /, and the not-so-nice profile in The New York Times, M.I.A.’s (born Maya Arulpragasam) larger than life ego has been garnishing more buzz than her actual music. But that didn’t stop her fans from showing up in droves for her two-night stint at the Vic Theatre.
Baltimore rapper Rye Rye started the night with a series of tight ryhmes, electro beats, and some killer synchronized dance moves. The 19-year-old is the first signed artist to M.I.A.’s Interscope Records imprint N.E.E.T. Joined by three male dancers, Rye Rye’s infectious grin, quick lipped rants, and Baltimore house influence worked the crowd over on the dance floor. Rye Rye has the goods (it’s hard to believe she’s only 19), and we’ll keep our eyes out for her debut, due early 2011.
After a long wait (which included a 15 minute set by DJ Asma), M.I.A., wrapped in a shirt made of tape and an oversized trench coat, took the stage. Her eagerly awaiting fans roared. Bouncing around with a gang of dancers (some male, some dressed in burkas), M.I.A. turned the Vic into a pulsating beat box. At point, she even hopped into the highly engaging audience. Throughout the hour long set, M.I.A. dished out the hits off Kala and Arular, like “Galang”, “Boyz”, and mixed ‘em in with newer tracks like “Lovealot” and “Born Free”. There were a few sound issues – her microphone cut in and out at the start of the set – but with everything happening on and off stage, no one seemed too bothered by it.
It wasn’t like they had a chance, either. Behind the band, a screen at the back of the stage flashed abstract images of nature, explosions, and the singer herself. It wasn’t so much of a visual experience as it was a visual overload. But, it’d be hard to bet that anyone focused on the images for too long. After all, M.I.A. is an entertainer through and through… a cultural mash-up whose colorful stage persona only energizes her wild beats. You can’t take your eyes off her. In a music scene where male artists’ egos are a dime a dozen (even revered for it), it’s refreshing to see a female performer confidently strut her stuff along and own it. Not only own it, but shove it down your throat. It was hard to keep up with her. One minute she’s crawling up a 15 ft. speaker, the next she’s lying on the floor, throwing her shoes into the audience. You name it, she threw it: shoes, towels, the mic, herself… it all went in. Everyone grabbed for it, too.
Photography by Meghan Brosnan.
Gallery by Meghan Brosnan