M.I.A. And Solange At Webster Hall, Saturday, May 12th, 2014, Reviewed
Saturday night, M.I.A. mentioned that the last time she was at Webster Hall it was to see former the Slits leader, the late great Ari Upp back in 2008. “I wish she was here now”, M.I.A. said. So do we all. Anybody who followed post punk in the late 1970s loved the great Slits who chopped up Reggae rhythms and chanted over them. Once M.I.A. made the connection though, it pulled the disco queen out of the House rhythm DJ world she exists in and to a different space time continuum. There is a line that stretches from the Slits and the Raincoats, and other rock against sexism experimentalist, that you could unravel until it leads you to M.I.A.
This feels like M.I.A.’s secret, specifically, because, headlining a “Vulture” (New York Magazines terrific online culture website) curated concert with indie r&b Princess Solange Knowles opening, M.I.A’s hour long set was more like fractured House than either pop tracks or world music or definitely post punk, but the more you listen the clearer are her ties to UK political rock. Post-punk from around 79 – 81 was a lost golden age and M.I.A. is like the last surviving member of a tribe long tone.
When I saw M.I.A. at T5 last November (see here) i wrote “what you saw was M.I.A. dressed for most of the show in a gold jumpsuit and with two backing dancers, a synth programmer, a drum kit, a colorful stage with what may be Buddhists symbol as well as the albums name across the stage. The lights went down for a set piece with five people swirling their hips with neon multi colored hoola hoops. All the while, and I mean ALL THE WHILE, she is moving, dancing, crouching, inviting audience members on stage , and moving those hips in time to the shudder shudder shudder beats.“. And what you saw Saturday night was the same written in smaller Sanskrit. Really, it sounds like a DJ with a live singer, it is all about the rhythms and while songs advance from the mix, hooks is maybe what I mean, they only occasionally click into place as songs themselves. “YALA” around the half way marks with the dastardly “Alarms go off when I enter the building” shout out was one, and the concert climax “Paper Planes” and “Bad Girls” was another.
Solange Knowles had no problem with singing songs and on a too short, well paced 40 minutes, she proves that if True wasn’t quite her breakthrough, she is getting closer every time out. Just back from a wedding in South America, Solange rushed to Webster Hall and claimed to be overwhelmed but the audience made it all worthwhile. She put on an excellent performance. Solange has the dreaminess of soul, the heat of r&b and the sound modulations of indie EDM. I’d seen Solange open for Vampire Weekend last year and been impressed and I was impressed here. No longer partnered with the excellent Dev Hynes, and you can tell that by Solange losing the annoying synth zoom on “Losing You”, she plays it all a little straighter than she did six months ago. Nothing much is lost. A cover of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” is quite good, a vocal work out on Dirty Projectors “Stillness Is The Move” is better than her recorded version. Solange was just fine.
M.I.A. was kinda grown up, you know. Solange mentioned both she and M.I.A., with her mind on Sunday no doubt, are both mothers now. Not in a stodgy way, but there was no dramatics this night either, no kicking photographs , no attitude. The entire evening was spot on the money, in a terrific place to see a show, with a good looking, female centric audience and a sweet temperamental and endless intelligence. Ari Upp would have loved it.