Last Night: M.I.A. at the SF Design Center

Categories: Last Night

M.I.A., Hottub
Concourse at the SF Design Center
Review and Fan Photos by Lauren Smiley
May 21, 2008


Better than:
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

From the moment M.I.A. kicked off the San Francisco installment of the People vs. Money tour and started blowing a plastic party horn directly into the mic during "Bamboo Banga," the people in the packed venue were quite pleased, indeed.

So who are the M.I.A. people? The some 3,000 crowd - that was M.I.A.'s count from stage at least - skewed heavily to the under-25 set, some so young that the large pixelated Nintendo clouds from Super Mario Brothers flying by on the screen as M.I.A. flew on a paper plane through them was before their time. The youngsters can be bitchy if you stand between them and a photo op of their goddess. And they're fabulously dressed, mostly in some rendition of the Sri Lanka-born, West London-raised musician herself.

And for a musician that's known for her outfits, M.I.A. didn't disappoint last night. She took stage wearing a black sequined running suit with white dog bones on it, possibly the worst garment ever, but she worked that thing like the stud she is, tugging up the pant-legs like Grandpa to hoist a leg up on the amp at the stage's rim and bounce up and down.

Although one member of the Bay Area opening group Hottub says "she gives all the guys boners," actually to see M.I.A. on stage is to realize how rare it is to see a genetically gifted hiphoppess on stage who doesn't totally sex herself out. Even M.I.A.'s body shimmy invokes more comparisons to a little boy (maybe it was those sequin Hammer pants) than the bootylicious females the music industry usually serves up. She performed her arsenal of dance moves that she's decided to make cool, grooving around stage in her bob wig and purple leotard looking like a funky little martian.

Half-way through the show, she invited a hoard of girls from the audience to groove onstage to a tune, and later they evacuated for the guys to come on, proving once and for all the staggering difference in dancing aptitude between straight and gay men. M.I.A. clearly commanded the respect of both (read: there were scant attempts to hump M.I.A.) holding her mic back to a couple for backup vocals like a VJ going to commercial break.

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If there's one major criticism, it's that the show was pretty damn short. Not hitting the stage until after 10:30, she ended Round One with "Galang" at 11:39 yelling "San Franciscoooooo, we love you! You're a cool fucking town!" She should have left it with that. M.I.A. and Co. returned for an encore "to end on a high note" (and judging by the odor permeating the venue, many did). But for this reporter at least, it was more like a barbiturate. M.I.A. required the audience whip out their cell phones for "Paper Planes," a droning, repetitive and intentionally off-tune song which this reporter may score 8.5 enemies out of the 10 people who read this review by declaring the tune the musical equivalent of waking up on a futon that is not yours with potato chip crumbs caked into your cheek. M.I.A. was pretty short on words, but sent out a cordial farewell on her way out: "It's been a pleasure."

But hey, the people were happy.

"Ammmmmaaaaazing," said one college student as she streamed out of the venue and intoning a M.I.A.-inspired British accent to say, "I'm ready to write my paper about progress and revolution."

"That's due tomorrow?" says a boy walking by her side.

"Yep."

It's true, the loopy dream world of a M.I.A. concert on a mid-week night does have its end, children. Even in time to catch the last BART.

Critic's Notebook

Random Detail: Rachel Regret, the fab M.I.A. fan pictured in full face paint above, didn't have enough money to buy a ticket, but stood outside on the curb until someone gave her a spare ticket for her simply looking "amazing." "I really don't see how you can charge $45 when you're writing lyrics about the third world," she says.

Personal Bias: Admittedly more of a fan of the MIA creative aesthetic than the music itself.

By the Way: More like a rumor...that MIA was going to be at the after-party at Vessel, 85 Campton Place.

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