Since her debut album back in 2005, M.I.A has made a career out of being the bad girl rockstar. Her creative mix of street fashion and high couture combine with her genre bending rap-pop songs to make her a trendsetter in the best sense of the word. She brought this compelling energy to the brand new Knockdown Center, located deep into Queens. The converted glass factory-turned-venue is in a wholly industrial district, nestled among autobody shops and Chinese importing warehouses. There was no alcohol available at the venue due to a permitting issue, but this did not stop the raving dance party that M.I.A. inspires.
You could see the trail of hipsters winding through Brooklyn in the hour before the show, snaking through the debris-strewn streets from Bushwick to Queens. The sound of the Trap Lord A$AP Ferg beckoned them as his music echoed off the brick walls of the converted factory. He has been on tour with M.I.A. as an opener for 11 dates so far. The choice to mix Harlem hip-hop with the tribal rap stylings of M.I.A. is surprisingly fitting. Ferg played a short set of hits, including “Work” and “Hood Pope”. Before bowing backstage, Ferg delivered a message of inclusion: “I do not care what race you are, where you are from, what sexual orientation you are, none of that. We all here. We all having fun.”
When the lights began strobbing to accent the set of giant wheels in the background set, the audience knew it was time for the main event. Bass echoed as the crowd rushed forward to be greeted my M.I.A. herself, dressed in a giant orange hooded jacket and matching pants, accented by her trademark designer shades.
She immediately got the crowd’s energy up with her dancers who were dressed in a mixture of white and Versace prints. Their style fell somewhere between crumping and fast paced yoga moves. The crowd responded by jumping, writhing and sweating their problems away as M.I.A. rapped over changing beats and pounding riddims.
Mid-show M.I.A. stripped off her giant jack to reveal a shiny gold t-shirt. She promptly tucked it into her orange mom jeans and addressed the crowd: “Life in New York is hard. I’m here to remind you it’s possible. Believe me”. Then, it was right back to the party.
As the giant wheels in the back of the stage turned into a Carnivalesque pulsing light show, M.I.A. rapped her hits flawlessly and energetically. For several songs, including “Bad Girls”, she invited her fans to bring the dance party onstage. Almost half the audience rushed to join MIA. The diverse mix danced and took on-stage selfies while working the rest of the crowd left on the warehouse floor.
For some of her songs, M.I.A. nimbly jumped up onto the speakers to the side of the stage, writhing and whipping her towel around her head like a helicopter to trap-infused electronic beats. She ended her performance with “Paper Planes” as she and her dancers coordinated their moves to the gun/cash register sound effects.
Even after M.I.A. threw her mic down and pranced offstage, the crowd wanted more. She came back out and said “I’m not even going to sing. We are just going to dance” and then broke into “Y.A.L.A.”
It is rare to see a performer work her audience like the ringleader of a circus while still managing to be the coolest girl in the room. The level of hyper-fandom from the crowd – bordering on worship – reflects M.I.A.’s natural charisma and infectious talent. Any time M.I.A takes the stage the venue transforms into immediate party – just be sure to come hydrated and ready to dance.