M.I.A. - Birmingham Custard Factory
The Custard Factory's Medicine Bar is usually a space reserved for DJ-accompanied festivities during one of the venue's frequent all-nighters. Not since October of last year had I been there for a proper 'gig', and that was to see a little band called the Klaxons. Needless to say, hype was turning into something that bit more phenomenal. Shame then that the critical acclaim surrounding tonight's artist hasn't yet translated into mega-bucks record sales. However, with a crowd who clearly get it and know how great she is, M.I.A. made my return to the Medicine Bar an end-of-year treat. I'm tellin' ya, the place is blessed!
Hurtling on to the stage asking how us Brummies were feeling, she wasted no time in banging out the appropriately titled Bamboo Banga. Wearing a ludicrously sparkly hoody that was alternately up and down all night, our strikingly pretty hostess (anyone else think this is Blue Peter's Konnie Huq gone street?) sometimes covered her eyes with a pair of blingy aviators but was never once hiding behind them. Fearless and brazen, songs from both her new album Kala and Mercury-nominated debut Arular were performed breathlessly, one track hardly finished before rhymes from other another song were being delivered. It almost looked like she was going to crowd-surf one minute before she seemed to think 'heck with it!' and decided to call the entire first three rows on to the stage instead. Cue a fantastic living-room party feel, and no doubt many a camera phone vid bound to surface on Youtube.
Wait a minute, though, this is an M.I.A. gig; surely, she had to cut the party short and bang on about fair trade at some point? Not so. Although she informed the crowd that one of her international band members only got their passport a few days ago, she didn't really harp on about any of her obvious political/economical concerns, choosing instead to let her music do the business. That's why her music ultimately works; she has an agenda but one that is so wrapped up in a genre-defying mishmash of sounds that you don't feel like you're being preached to. Aside from this, she's obviously a creative force in other arenas, the screens behind her showcasing some nifty videos and original artwork created especially for this tour. Despite such multi-media talent, one had a hard time concentrating on such impressive images when she was riding high on the crowd barrier and, well, the crowd's outstretched arms, a crown that was a touch Burger King residing on her head. This is one lady who is determined to give her fans a show, and a lesson for all those rehab-visiting performers who rest on their laurels for the majority of a gig.
Boundless enthusiasm aside, there were still moments during this show that trumped others. Bucky Done Gun got every single person in attendance moving, while also inspiring an excess of blaring horns and a changed lyric in 'Birmingham, quieten down, I need to make a sound!' We be listening, babe. Tracks on her album that you knew would impress even more in a club or live venue, such as XR2 and Boyz, did not disappoint, with a version of Hussel, where Afrikan Boy's rap was replaced by one of M.I.A.'s female backing singers/MCs, exceeding expectations and doing wonders with the track's primary formidable rave-synth hook. When she reworks snippets of New Order and Eurythmics into her set, any attempt at criticism is clearly pointless. There's not really a bad word to be said, the show providing no let-up during what was essentially one heck of a hour-and-a-half party.
Of course, at the end of such a party, you need a positively iconic track that will send partygoers on their way home feeling triumphant and a little sad that the ride is over. We got it with Paper Planes, a song that must must MUST be a crossover number 1 single. Cresting the guitar wave of a Clash sample, ordering us to get out our camera phones and sway them from side to side in the air, and proceeding to tell us that all she wants to do is shoot us and take our money, with every attendee making pistols of their fingers and shooting them in the air at the appropriate points, M.I.A. created one of the live moments of the year. I saw her on Monday, when Led Zeppelin were getting all the headlines. Bovvered?