October 4, 2010

Too Cool For School

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Cornell Concert Commission welcomed badass M.I.A. to the main stage in Barton Hall on Sunday night. All those willing to blow off some post-prelim steam were rewarded with a power-packed, party-filled show of epic proportions.

The concert started out strong with an opening act from M.I.A.’s protégé, Rye Rye. While the DJ threw down the beats, the Baltimore-born rapper-dancer — who was sporting a cropped blonde bob, gigantic gold earrings, and a fantastic oversized patchwork sweater that was probably left over from some 80s music video shoot — succeeded in getting the crowd pumped up and dancing around for the main act. After several of her own dance party anthems, she ended her set with an amusing remix of Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA.” While Rye Rye was an unknown entity for the majority of the people in Barton, I suspect that we haven’t heard the last from this up-and-coming entertainer.

After a not-so-short intermission, M.I.A. burst onto the stage through a haze of smoke and blinding lights, clad in a makeshift camouflage-print burqa, Fendi leggings and big white sunglasses. It was immediately obvious that this girl takes no prisoners, as the vivacious “anti-pop” star of Sri Lankan descent took command of the stage, ordering her audience to get their hands in the air and hips rocking to the beat of her lively hit, “Illygirl.”

M.I.A. instantly set the tone for the night and fulfilled her hard-edged image with the flippant caveat, “If they think I’m bad, then I’m going to be bad,” and set about breaking all the rules in a non-stop, energy-induced 80-minute set, which featured several songs from her latest’s album ///Y/.

When the opening beats of one of ///Y/’s better known songs, “Born Free” — known for its controversial music video — came on, I was a little concerned for my ginger friends out there in the crowd, but luckily no riots broke out — probably to the disappointment of M.I.A. who kept trying to goad the audience into crowd-surfing and moshing.

M.I.A. nevertheless provided a dynamic show with some of the ridiculous stunts she pulled throughout. Twice during her set, M.I.A. climbed up the teetering mountain of speakers piled up on either side of the stage, and perched up there for quite some time, while her back-up dancers tore it up on the stage below.

Three such dancers, who infused a bit of Middle Eastern flair into the atmosphere, rocked out while dressed in full burqas (which I’m sure was extremely uncomfortable under the heat of the stage lighting). But what you probably didn’t know is that underneath those garments were three Cornell students, who auditioned for the chance to dance on stage with M.I.A.

But audition or not, there were other Cornellians who wound up on stage by the end of the night. Looking to crush any guideline of correct social behavior for performers, M.I.A. invited any fan that was able to scale the wall to go up on stage with her. So within a song or two a collective group of forty-ish hipsters were bouncing around the stage and enjoying the show from the headliner’s vantage point.

And at that point with her stage full of possible under-agers, M.I.A. busted out a bottle of who-knows-what and sprung into her up-beat song “Teqkilla.” Amidst all of the chaos on stage, M.I.A. was completely chill. She had groupies grinding all over her and snapping photos in her face (sometimes at the same time) to remember that priceless moment and she wasn’t fazed even in the slightest.

Then after humorously informing the crowd that they can submit any further song requests via Twitter, M.I.A. finished off the night with her smash hit “Paper Planes,” which had everyone in the audience jumping in the air and shamelessly belting out the lyrics. But at the close of the song, M.I.A. simply said her peace and fled the stage, leaving her fans both on stage and in the audience in a lurch, waiting for an XXXO encore that never came to fruition.­

All in all M.I.A. delivered a funky, high-spirited show unlike anything else out there in mainstream music. From her fashion taste to her crazy antics on and off the stage, M.I.A. is out there in the best possible sense. She’s different, unique and isn’t afraid the break all the rules to have a little fun!

Original Author: Heather McAdams