The Metro Theatre, Sydney, Saturday January 28, 2006
The one line review reads: good, but too short. The long form review reads as follows.
An effective litmus test for the quality of a night out, the M.I.A crowd was always going to be as diverse as the music; a hip selection of punters from various hotspots of the social scale. Over by the bar you’ve got your spunky music-loving lesbians, here for the street-smart sexuality of a female rapper who doesn’t look like she’s just walked out of a Fiddy Cent video clip; playing pool you’ve got your hip-hop fans, keen to start the old bump ‘n’ grind to hip-hop’s latest new-school fusion act; pouting in faux-discontentment for the social snapper are the well-dressed indie crew, happy to shake the ass they’ve squished into tight black jeans to music which is still fitting the indie description: underground, alternative, progressive, whatever and finally in the red corner, the cool ethnic kids, here cuz someone’s finally making good hip-hop that doesn’t celebrate a bland white culture or an unrelatable black one, but instead does what hip-hop started out doing before MTV got involved: tell stories of struggle from the street.
For the uninitiated, M.I.A is Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, daughter of a Tamil para-military guerrilla from Sri Lanka, now London-based. Onstage its just her, back-up vocalist Cherry and her collaborator and rumoured partner DJ Diplo, who worked with her on the early Piracy Funds Terrorism Mixtapes which predated the ridiculously successful Arular (named after her father).
As a performer, M.I.A is seasoned and consummate, charming all sections of the crowd with a show designed for maximum involvement. Her vocal gymnastics are limited but that’s besides the point – you don’t have to be a songbird to write a catchy chorus, good, politically-informed lyrics and dance like no-ones watching. Mashing up dancehall, world music, urban hip-hop and electro proves a tight mix, and as the vocal crowd demanded our second encore from the diminutive rapper, the concert’s greatest flaw became apparent. As one punter pointed out, for an extra ten clams you got double the Franz Ferdinand just a few days prior. Good, but too short.