One attends a M.I.A. gig with a sense of trepidation, expecting an hour of being hectored from the stage about the global economic crisis by someone who is wearing a keffiyeh. Great tunes and all that, but let’s face it: if we could harness the hot air that M.I.A. spouts in interviews, we’d be able to hook her up to the national grid and use her interminable prattling on to power a city the size of, oh I dunno, let’s say Galway. Tonight poor sound renders just about everything that comes out of her gob almost completely unintelligible, although during a rare moment where I can make out what she is blethering on about she is shouting – what else?- “PALESTINE! REPRESENT! PALESTINE!” The iffy sound issue doesn’t hamper the gig in the slightest, though: in fact it adds to it, lending a certain chaos to opener ‘Born Free’ and to the terrific ‘Boyz’, both of which judder with stentorian bass. Two not-at-all-camp male dancers, looking like refugees from This Is England ’86, provide visual entertainment in front of projections which M.I.A. herself conjures up on an iPad. There is footage of WAR! and SOMALI PIRATES! and THE ONE SHOW! Well alright, not that last one, but you get the gist. It’s all very “serious”. M.I.A. crowd-surfs, of course, and she gets members of the audience up on stage, who proceed to dance awkwardly as they attempt to capture the moment on their digital cameras (presumably, they had a field-day uploading the results to Facebook the next day).
M.I.A. herself is a shadowy presence most of the time, poorly lit and lurking in the wings. Interestingly, she seems keen to downplay her celebrity; it’s certainly not a big, glitzy performance. Other than the lady herself, there is just a DJ and (for a short time) a drummer on the stage. This raises the issue of how “live” this gig really is, and it does feel rather like a P.A. in a club as much as a live concert. Although it all looks and sounds like it could fall apart at any moment – M.I.A. totters gingerly about on top of the speaker stack at one point – there is a fun sense of unpredictability about the evening. ‘Paper Planes’ blows the roof off and is a reminder of how vibrant and exciting a force this woman can be, and when she shakes hands with the fans in the front row during the encore, there is a definite sense that M.I.A.’s relationship with her devoted audience is a special one.
Photos: Damien McGlynn