It’s been rumored that M.I.A.’s latest album was delayed because her record company thought it was too “positive.” However, the brightness of it all made her two-night stand at the Belasco Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles an exhilarating experience.
The stage was illuminated with LED pinwheels and a banner spelling out Matangi, the name of the new pulse-pounding Interscope album. Flanking the outspoken London-by-way-of-Sri-Lanka performer were dancers that would explode into timely jerks, pops and locks to the tune of helicopter blades and gunshots. And the artist herself dazzled in a gold outfit draped over her slinky body. She’d sway like Axl Rose, then squat in front of captivated fans, as though she were having a heart-to-heart chat with them.
Normally, intimate conversations showcase vulnerability, but an M.I.A. concert is pure adrenaline and courage. To begin second night during her two-night stay in Los Angeles, her DJ played “The Message,” a cautionary sputtering track off 2010’s Maya that fretted the government was spying on citizens’ Internet searches. Many laughed off her paranoia back then, but now that Edward Snowden is a household name, the song was all too appropriate.
The beats were relentless. A trio of Matangi bangers (the doomy “Bring the Noize,” the boisterous “Y.A.L.A.” and the video-game-boss wallop of “Warriors”) provided an early crest of energy. She revisited back-catalog essentials such as “Pull Up the People” and “Bucky Done Gun” off her 2005 debut, Arular. The latter, all trumpets and drumrolls, summoned a few dozen audience members to the stage, a menagerie of L.A. culture: USC sorority girls, a timid and artsy woman in her 50’s, Latinos, Asians, gay kids, ravers, rockers…you name it. The global groove that M.I.A. popularized has ensnared one and all.
Deep down, they were all “Bad Girls” that night, as the show closed with that anthemic single. Braggadocio filled the Belasco like smoke, everyone intoxicated on the empowering vibes.