Justin Dylan Renney

After her first Seattle show, opening for LCD Soundsystem two years ago, the conventional wisdom on M.I.A. was that her albums and artwork and fashion are all brilliant but that her performances are kind of lukewarm. At that show, people seemed stoked enough to finally be seeing M.I.A. (her scheduled Seattle debut at Chop Suey had been canceled months before) that they were willing to forgive a set easily bested by LCD Soundsystem's live show, which overpowered in terms of both sound and sweat. So, expectations were mixed: M.I.A.'s sophomore album, Kala, is another killer record—it practically makes Arular seem obsolete—but would her live show keep up? On November 16 at the Showbox Sodo, M.I.A. erased any doubt. Her live show was the real fucking deal.

M.I.A. owned the stage, exerting cool confidence and a commanding energy. The crowd was squirming for space to dance against the push of the sold-out crowd. Early hit "Sunshowers" started off a little weak, with M.I.A.'s backup singer/hype girl Miss Cherry not quite hitting the rhythm or pitch of the chorus's vocal hook, but DJ Low Budget picked things up by dropping an unexpected four/four beat midway through the song. "$20," which sounds stunning and stoned on Kala, also came off a little weak live but was rejuvenated by Low Budget's mixing in the synth beat from "Blue Monday" (from which "$20" takes its three-note melody).

Later, the bass hits of "Bucky Done Gun" vibrated the whole hall, all the way back to the bar—deep-tissue sound waves rumbling up from the floor, through bodies, rippling drinks. In fact, the sound was impressive throughout the set, and, contrary to what I'd heard, the Showbox Sodo actually has a pretty decent ambience for a room of its shape and size (some exposed wooden beams warm up the concrete box, and the attached bar looks cozy enough). For "Bird Flu," M.I.A. pulled up the people, filling the stage with audience members—girls only at first (righteous shades of Bikini Kill), but then some dudes got in on the act (which I guess is also shades of Bikini Kill). The crowd held up lighters and cell phones for the woozy summer sway of "Paper Planes"; some pointed finger pistols in the air for the gunshot-riddled chorus. On the video projection behind M.I.A. (a dazzling, techno-color explosion), 8-bit neon paper planes flew and folded around Cory Arcangel's Super Mario Clouds. "Paper Planes" is the standout track on Kala—a warped, swooning summer jam that collides the Clash's "Straight to Hell" with Wreckx-N-Effect's "Rump Shaker" with M.I.A.'s own digital dystopian style—and it was the highlight of the set, the last memorable moment of the show. After "Paper Planes," everything else, including the encore, just seemed anticlimactic.

The next day on Line Out, commenter "drew" described it as "probably one of the best shows I've been to in my life... Before she even left for the encore I was totally spent. I just stood there overwhelmed by what I was just a part of. She climbed all over the stage, did some FREAKYYYY dancing, and really put it out there for all of us."


"FREAKYYYY dancing" and fluorescent visuals continued on November 17 at Crawl Space, though on a much smaller scale. The art gallery was hosting a fundraising party, dubbed Bazaar, with a vaguely defined Carnival-meets-rave theme, and at least half the crowd was decked out in clashing neons. In addition to fluorescent feathers and face paint, the party's hostesses were wearing matching Paper Rad T-shirts featuring a clutter of bright cartoon creatures—Tux Dog and pals—on white backgrounds. Crawl Space maven Anne Mathern mounted a stool to give a gracious speech to the packed gallery. There was beer and wine, pizza and cupcakes, face painters and glow sticks, and of course artwork on the walls and floor. DJs Sam Rousso Sound System and Glitterpants played records, finally managing to turn out a little dance party as the place was supposed to be closing down (the tune that got people moving was, as ever, "Blue Monday"). One of the problems with parties at art galleries is all the damn light—the gallery people want you to see the art, but a dance party naturally wants a nightclub's flattering darkness. But Bazaar's Day-Glo aesthetic neatly solved the problem, as everybody looked much cooler lit up bright than they would have in the dark. recommended

egrandy@thestranger.com