It’s been nearly four months since M.I.A. first blessed the Windy City with what could be described as an epic Chicago performance. In the time since her last arrival, M.I.A has jettisoned from indie phenomenon to full fledged superstar in the making. Despite being perhaps the hottest thing in the world and having kept up an exhausting touring schedule, M.I.A. still comes completely correct with her unique blend of grimy, dance hallish, hip hopish, east Indian pop hodge-podge of sound. In a live performance her lyrics are still wildly potent, her moves still sharp as a knife and her playful charisma still charming enough to ignite a sold out audience. To be present for an M.I.A. performance at Chicago’s Metro is to witness something passionate, honest, and genuine. M.I.A. manages to address the angst, bravado, and bluster of alternative youth in a sincere and empathetic way, yet her electrifying energy and explosive beats are enough to seduce even the shyest of listeners. An M.I.A. show is about being squished up next to somebody else, chanting words that everybody knows while stomping feet and shaking ass.
I busted through the doors of the venue slightly later than I had expected and to no surprise, had accidentally missed the opener. Luckily enough I had been given a photo pass for the event, which coincidentally provided a first class ticket to the front. It took nearly five minutes to push my way through the crowd of jealous onlookers, all of which reluctantly stood aside as I slid past. By the time I got into the photo pit my clothes were soaked in sweat, the majority of which wasn’t mine. However, it was to be expected at a show of this magnitude and I chalked it up as a sacrifice to the rock gods. Many of the fans who anxiously pressed against the riot bars separating them from the stage had stood for hours, desperately defending their turf as the venue swelled with enthusiasts. But before I even had time to pull my camera out of its bag, the blaring sound of deep bass signaled M.I.A’s arrival to stage. I frantically shuffled over my equipment, whipped out my camera and faceted it around my neck.
The crowd went into upheaval as both M.I.A and her hype girl, Cherry, burst onto stage. It seemed like a glorious welcome back moment, and was already shaping up to be a night to talk about for weeks to come. As M.I.A. made her way through her set list, which included tracks both from her mix-tape, Piracy Funds Terrorism, and her Arular LP, the energy in the room never died. On stage, M.I.A. literally seemed to be on fire as the sequins from her flamboyant outfit violently sparkled under the red and orange lights. Behind me the crowd was like a sea of people surging at the brim. She would drop a hit like “Bucky Done Gun” and the audience would come crashing against the riot bars like a tidal wave braking against a rocky cliff. Girls grabbed my neck and shoulders as I attempted to snap as many pictures as possible.
The night ended with a magnificent three-song encore in which M.I.A. and Cherry grabbed a series of fans from the audience and allowed them to dance on stage. Those few who did make the on stage pick had stars in their eyes, and I couldn’t help but feel very happy for them. It was like M.I.A. was one of us, like an old friend that blows into town every once in a while for a night of serious rejoicing. M.I.A. offers something for so many that simply can’t be matched by the abundance of bland pop idols bombarding television and radio. M.I.A truly offers a window into the future. Her music is undisputedly ahead of it’s time, and last night she proved that even us Midwesterners are ready to climb onboard her time machine of sound.