Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I can't remember if I've seen M.I.A. three or four times now. The first was definitely at her North American debut show at Tribeca's Knitting Factory in early 2005. Her buzzed about mixtape with Diplo, who was on hand that night providing background beats, was nothing short of mind blowing. We forgave her for being a bit shaky on stage, as this was only her fourth or fifth live performance ever. And we were really really excited to hear, dance and singalong to Hombre and everything else she had out at the moment.

After Arular, her debut album, blew up and I maybe saw her again at Knitting Factory, I caught her at McCarren Pool in 2008 on tour for her sophomore effort, Kala. This show felt like a huge homecoming for a friend who had made it and had toured the earth and back and everyone was in it to have a good time. I don't really remember what the songs sounded like or what the stage show looked like but everyone was dancing and loving it. It was a hot summer night and though the African-inspired drum tracks (courtesy of producers Switch and Diplo) took a few listens, they had sunk into the collective conscience out in Brooklyn that night.

Then there was last night's show at Terminal 5. Maya had married a billionaire. Maya had had a baby. Maya had performed at the Grammy's. Maya had a spat with Lynn Hirschberg over a questionable New York Times article. And Maya released her third album, which she was now touring for after a botched summer concert on New York's Governor's Island which only fed to an increasing backlash. So what's to say about last night's concert?

Due to electrical problems, the schedule was delayed over an hour. When M.I.A. made her way onstage, she seemed lackluster. She futzed with a sound effects control panel and sounded out of practice. She barely communicated with the audience and seemed annoyed that her monitors were facing the stage (she kicked them around to face the audience) and that her mic wasn't turned up properly. The tracks from Arular and Kala seemed to get cut off. I still want to love M.I.A., even if she acted bratty and a bit holier than thou at last night's performance. Those earlier tracks are still major, no matter how much she messed them up. When she really came alive was later on in the evening when she got around to "singing" her newer stuff, though she seemed quite out of breath and happy to have the audience sing more of her lyrics than to do it herself.

I came home and read that Casey Spooner of Fischerspooner had tweeted and facebooked, "M.I.A. SUCKED LIVE. She is a terrible uncommitted performance. She is a spoiled brat who has everything at her disposal and does nothing with it. She is a bore," and dozens of comments that said, "Yeah!" After seeing her in concert three times, I agree that she's not the best live but her songs do sound better when played over a big soundsystem. And the visual of her and her amazing dancers and her colorful clothing prints and her art videos in the background should be enough to carry a concert. Casey's right. She needs to make an effort and improve over time. Maybe she chose the wrong people to work with on this album but I still have high hopes for her despite last night's performance. That said, I'm not sure how many more times I'll go and see her live.

Oh, and she didn't even play XXXO live. Or Hombre :(

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