As she did about six weeks ago in Toronto, Maya Arulpragasm, otherwise known as M.I.A., made sure she was the talk of the town on Saturday night.
The singer, who was by far one of the highlights of Toronto’s Virgin Festival in early September, played a sold-out, 80-minute show at the Kool Haus as part of the Red Bull Music Academy festival. And it was a festival atmosphere that greeted M.I.A., her lone backing vocalist and her supporting DJ as she opened with ‘Bamboo Banga’ from her 2007 sophomore album ‘Kala.’
While small in stature, the Sri Lankan-cum-Briton performer mixes an ample supply of influences such as Bhangra, reggae, electronica and hip-hop that would result in even the most stationery of concert attendees shaking their rump. Add to that the enthusiasm M.I.A. brings to the proceedings and the already party-flavored tunes go to another level.
“Toronto!” M.I.A., wearing a colorful hoodie and shades shouted prior to World Town before doling out ‘XR2.’ The tune, which sounds like it could be the most enjoyable university fight song never recorded, was the first of many highlights as the jungle-tinged ‘Pull up the People’ quickly followed.
With the crowd into it, and whose energy would slowly make the venue feel like a sauna by show’s end, M.I.A. offered up the playful ‘Sunshowers’ as she split the vocal duties with the audience. Often dancing up a storm herself and pacing the stage often, M.I.A. shone on ‘Jimmy’ with its Middle Eastern, ABBA-meets-Madonna flavor propelling it along effortlessly.
Like she did at the Virgin Festival, M.I.A. asked for the craziest fans to get up onstage with her for ‘Bird Flu’ and dozens eagerly complied. The singer even lent a hand helping people up over security barriers. The only problem being after the song where things were momentarily delayed as the stage invaders were ushered off. Earlier however M.I.A. seemed nonplussed with a fan appeared onstage during ‘10 Dollar,’ dancing with her and making her feel part of the show.
Following the playful ‘Bucky Done Gun’ from her 2005 debut ‘Arular,’ M.I.A. opted to scale the stacks of speakers during ‘Hussel’. Although not quite sure how she was going to get down, she simply sat and aimed her imaginary guns in the air as sounds of shotgun blasts were peppered throughout the track.
As early Sunday morning commenced, the sweaty but high octane singer, wearing a hat which she could may have found on Gilligan’s Island, continued running the sweaty and nearly spent audience through their paces with the pleasing ‘Boyz’ prior to closing out the main set with ‘Galang.’
Perhaps the only band worth mentioning opening up for M.I.A., aside from a string of DJs who equated quality with volume, was local boys Holy F—k. The quartet deserved a longer set judging by their electro-rock nuggets.