Shoulder-to-shoulder, elbow-to-elbow, head-to-head, the crowd had packed itself so tight you hardly had room to breath. With no guard rail to separate us from the action, hordes of fervent fans desperately pushed to the front in hopes to securing a part of the floor for themselves. While the persistent pushing annoyed some, I embraced the activities as a humbling expression of unity. The evening’s events presented possibly Chicago’s most anticipated performance of the year, and somehow I had managed to finagle my way to the front. Not a single performance had begun, not even an opener, and the sold out show at The Metro was nearing capacity.
Suddenly, the house lights grew dim and from my left, Diplo could be seen casually taking his place behind the turntables. A series of catcalls swept across the crowd, only to be abruptly silenced by the peculiar voice of our president. An unusual video display projected onto a screen adjacent Diplo offered a comical image of George W. Bush behind a podium. The clever manipulation of the footage presented president Bush consistently repeating the words “MIA! MIA! MIA!,” as if the president himself had been hypnotized by the hysteria. With each repetition of the word the pace at which it was being repeated doubled, until eventually the crowd was left with a solid tone and a quavering image. Without warning, the devastating sound of an explosion ripped across the audience announcing M.I.A.’s entrance and ignited the crowd's enthusiasm with a wild display of unruly behavior.
My expectations of the performance were nothing less than flawless, and remarkably M.I.A. delivered without a hitch. Her uncanny ability to hype the crowd with her playful antics and flamboyant dance moves comforted even the lamest participants, pushing the crowd to contribute dearly to the show. Occasionally she would stop to catch her breath and share and intimate moment with the audience, before breaking back into a crowd pleaser like "10 Dollar". Diplo’s talented abilities masterfully guided the diva with a series of exquisite beats both from M.I.A.’s debut release, Arular, and from the their incredibly successful mixtape, Piracy Funds Terrorism. It would seem that M.I.A. was well conditioned for her first visit to the windy city, no doubt a result of her strenuous US tour, which allegedly ends sometime in mid June. Perhaps the highlight of this excursion is an official introduction to mainstream America via an appearance on Conan (May 27).
The show was incredible, but the icing on the cake came at the end, when the artist returned to the stage to perform an astonishing two-song encore. Granted, it was technically a co-headlining bill, but normally the encore is reserved for the last band to perform. But not last night... the crowd DEMANDED more. Tired and sweaty from a non-stop ass shaking experience, the crowd restlessly chanted word for word the lyrics to her first single, "Galang". This awesome show of pure magnitude has solidified MIA’s success in Chicago and demonstrated the power of her unique international hybrid on yet another American audience. An unprecedented performance such as this raises the bar of expectations and will undoubtedly re-route American popular culture as the MIA phenomenon prepares to give listeners an uncompromising alternative to the bland pop sensations dominating television and radio. The future of pop music? Time will tell.