Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review: M.I.A. on Governors Island Hard NYC Fizzles as Crowd Sizzles--July 24, 2010

by Kat Georges

NEW YORK—After enduring hours of sizzling heat in the rave-like atmosphere of the Hard NYC festival on Governors Island on Saturday, even hardcore MIA fans were scrambling for the first boat back to the city by the fifth song of an abysmal set that left concert goers puzzled, upset and even full of pity for what was once one of the brightest stars in world pop music.
MIA was the headliner and big draw for the nine-hour event on a humid day when temperatures soared into the high 90s. But her reputation as an engaging live performer may now be damaged beyond repair.
Fans were shocked and let down by the Sri Lanka-born performer's muddled, unentertaining show. It could have been so much more. Last week, during a slot on David Letterman, MIA performed a chilling live version of her recent driving controversial single and video, "Born Free." But last night, by the fifth song, nearly a third of the crowd proved just how free they were by walking out of the show without regret.
No regret, because Hard NYC wasn't a total waste of time, due to engaging beat-driven sets by top caliber international acts including DJs Skream and Benga, and MC Alpha (from London), quirky, hard-edged, NYC-based guitar-vocal duo Sleigh Bells, and a powerful, in-your-face, anti-PC bludgeoning by South African MC duo Die Antwoord.
In fact it may have been the strength of Die Antwoord's set, falling right before MIA, that made her look so weak by comparison. But MIA and crew seemed to need no help undermining every aspect of their set.
What should have a stunning opening number, "Steppin' Out," one of the most intense tracks on the latest CD, MΛYΛ, instead fell completely flat—against all odds. Before the song started, three figures clad in gold head-to-toe garments moved into place on the left side of the stage. Then, one-by-one: ten ninjas in black hooded suits entered; each marked with a vertical florescent stripe lit intensely by a flood of black lights; each carrying a black automatic machine gun. Whoa. The song's opening chain saw-like sounds blared, as though something big was about to begin. And then?
The sound stopped abruptly, and a chubbie roadie dashed across the stage—for what? A misplaced 1/4" male jack? A couple of double A batteries? Hard to believe this was the opening number of a show that the fans there really wanted to embrace, despite the almost universal critical disapproval of MIA's latest release. She was supposed to get it right. In fact, had she nailed it, the crowd would have been hers for the rest of the night.
Instead, when the sound started up again, it wasn't from the beginning of the song. Rather, it started about—oh, say—20 bars in, give or take a few. Who cares? It's only 20,000 people expecting to be entertained. And—this is the real shocker: MIA's own microphone wasn't audible! For the entire song! It's not like she plays an instrument and can cover up with some nifty noodling on a drum machine. She is the lead vocalist! And you couldn't hear her! Instead, you heard a prerecorded "music-minus-one" version of the record, with her cheerleader-like back up vocalist shrilly piping counterpoint "Yeahs" "MIAs" and "Rub-a-dubs." But no MIA! And she just kept going. How about switch mics? Stop the show for a minute? Nah . . . Just pretend it's working and maybe the audience will, too.
Her mic was still out for song two: "Bucky Done Gun" from the 2005 release "Arular." And by then the ninjas and others had left the stage, so it was just two women bouncing around in front of lights and projections, and only one of them could be heard, atop a muddy sound mix.
By song three, they were turning laser lights on the audience, and MIAs mic started making some noise. "Lovalot" came next, and little had improved. MIA kept going into the night. And the crowd started heading en masse for the boat home: exhausted and sorely disappointed.
Admittedly, the show and sound improved later, and hit a peak during a thunderstorm version of "World Town" from the exciting MIA's 2007 release Kala.
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Capetown's Die Antwoord was the absolute highlight of the show, playing a thrilling 8-song set that proved an outdoor venue can be intimate in the right hands. Afrikaaner MCs Ninja and Yolandi Vi$$er, with DJ HiTek, brought the house down with high intensity, trashy and offensive rapping in Afrikaans and English. They've just been signed to MIA's label, Interscope Records, and should be getting a well-deserved big push in the coming year.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Um... I believe those "ninja" suits were burqas. Another poorly considered aspect of the worst concert I've ever seen.

Anonymous said...

Spent 8 hours @ governors island concert waiting for MIA to take the stage. 3 songs in and we were so out of there. Just plain AWFUL. Singing was a joke and the sound was terrible. All the beats and synth were overblown, garbled and sounded like they were trapped under a giant plastic garbage can. Kept struggling to find the rhythm and the tune inside of the garbled mess. Worse yet she was way to cool for school and had some annoying chick from Baltimore (Rye Rye whose warm up show was a total ghetto joke) doing all of the talking for her.  At least come out strong and give some respect to the audience. Over it. Will be awhile before I can enjoy listening to her (obviously heavily produced) music again. (The sounds of Destructo and Skream + Benga were much tighter, pounding and you could actually understand the sounds you were hearing as music.)

Guess I wasn't alone though, because three songs in and there were throngs of people leaving the field and taking the long walk back to the ferry. Proved to be the wiser choice anyhow because the rain came out full force just as yet another full boat of people was leaving. Would love to know if she kept on in the rain or the show stopped. hmmm.  My guess is you can't get a producer to mix that shit out for you.

Anonymous said...

Broken Mics, uninspired staging, horrible echoes and garbled "music". It was torturous. she needs to do something drastic to make this up to her fans that sweltered for 6 hours to see her.
Especially the ones who hung in there hoping she would pull it out...

Anonymous said...

Yes, MIAs set was terrible. We stuck around, just to see how it turned out. The ONLY good part of this set was when it started raining and she belted out World Town. Unfortunately the production team made her stop for fear of electrocution. Dancing in the rain at least let us leave on a high note - until we had to walk halfway around the island to catch a ferry home, that is.

puma said...

Thanks for the review, Kat. I might have gone had I been more financially solvent, ie not flat broke. I saw MIA at the Siren Festival 2007, and she gave it her all despite the heat and the fact that she delivered her baby hours later (or a day later,tops). 2 bad. Glad the other bands were good, tho.

Anonymous said...

I knew MIA was pretty bad live so I was basically going to see the openers. I didnt anticipate enough just how bad it would be. Talk about someone who thinks she's a DIVA and then can't deliver. Just a bunch of annoying sounds. And I hate to be the one to say this, but Die Artwoord was also horrible. Thier lyrics were AWFUL and desperate for attention, and when the lead guy "sang" without the music in the background, I nearly went to the other tent. Acts before that were good though.

Anonymous said...

What a bummer. For the first ten minutes I really did think she would stop the show, say that she had just been joking, and start all over and come hard. People in my section were openly booing her - something I thought I would never see after seeing MIA live three other times and the shows being amazing. I guess what they say is true - she really doesn't want to do music anymore. It was a true slap in the face to pay that much money for this show. If you don't want to perform anymore, then don't headline a show like this! A lot of us don't have the luxury of going to tons of concerts and this was a big deal for me and my friends.

Thank goodness Skream & Benga and Sleigh Bells killed it. Die Antwoord was fun because their production was ill.. though agree with the other poster that lyrically, well, meh. I would love to see the Die Antwoord guy hold his own with the guys at Rock the Bells next month..now that would be a show.

Anonymous said...

This review is spot on. I was more impressed with the weird white 9-year-old boys who did talent-show dance routines than I was with her. Thank the lord for Die Antwoord, Sleigh Bells, and Rye Rye, otherwise I would have felt pretty gypped. My favorite part was when M.I.A. said, "Can I have some more gunshot sounds please?" which made people think she was gonna do Paper Planes. Nope! She just wanted to hear gunshots before talking for 10 minutes about not having a set list. Great.

Oh, and the second anonymous person - Rye Rye wasn't the chatty one! It was some other rapper who was up there with M.I.A. She kept holding the mic up to some girl in the front row, who would scream into the mic like she was being murdered. At least Rye Rye was coherent!

Anonymous said...

well said that show was horrible....

LASE said...

"All she wanna do is..(bang!)take your money.."
Paid $60 for a lousy show, she didn't even play 45minutes,, it rained for 8 minutes and they stopped the show. Sound was horrible, one thinks with all that money they could have the sound down...oh and to sell water for $4 should be ilegal specially in 90+ degree weather. The security dudes were on a power-high, treating people like crap and then hurdling everyone out like cattle to the slaughter house once the show was cancelled. God! I never had to take my shoes off before to go through security for a show. How lame was that. Oh well, will just conent myself listening to MIA's recordings, but going to see her live again? no..she has no respect for her fans.
L

Anonymous said...

great review.....i was outta there after 2 songs.....production was crap....die antwoord definitely brought it HARD.....i'd see them again.....MIA was a joke.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the majority of comments above, except-- did anyone else think Sleigh Bells were having some "problems"? It took them a while to get on stage, and there appeared to be some glitches right before their entrance. The first two songs seemed to be missing some crucial bass, and Alexis Krauss was at times either having a hard time vocalizing (she seemed unable to project) or her mic was screwed up. Top it off, they played the shortest set of anyone by far (what, maybe 25 mins?), after Skream and Benga overran their set time by like 40 mins (seriously, I like them, but they were up there _forever_). On a whole, I found Sleigh Bell's performance not nearly as satisfying as it could've been.

Anonymous said...

Also with the majority and reviewer. Had a great day in the sun watching the other acts, and into the evening, but then Fhat the Wuck? Of course we too thought there was some sort of mistake that would be worked out shortly. Before our heads completely exploded we headed for the boat and are now relieved we didn't stick it out.

Matthew said...

Boring, meaningless, and self-indulgent. That's how I would describe the piercing, grating, and ugly assault of sound as M.I.A. sluggishly shuffled around the stage flailing her arms. I have been a huge fan since 2004 and have loved her past two albums - I understood she was taking a new direction with her new album after listening to it, but WOW, I did not expect to be punished this harshly by her. After 6 hours of withstanding a mixed bag of sets. Die Antwoord were amazing and almost made my entire evening worth it - they were top notch entertainers and performers. Sleigh Bells came of as a weak, half-baked act, not ready for such a big stage and audience - they need a little more time to work it out before they are up to it.

I dont think I can listen to M.I.A. anymore.

Anonymous said...

my girlfriend and I left even before MIA got on stage. This was the longest, most over priced, most over security show I have EVER been to. You could not pay me to go see MIA, or ever step foot on Shutter Island again.

Anonymous said...

Fuck MIA and her sell-out, over-blown ego and fake gangster persona. She and Kanye would now make the perfect couple- but oh wait, she's already with that billionaire Time Warner executive's son. She owes her fans a deep apology, but it's already too late. I will never listen to her music again, not even her old albums. For all I care, she can rot in Beverly Hills with the rest of her Hollywood trash music-industry friends. She certainly has enough money now to start her contrived neon-ethnic print line of baby products if she wants after swindling her fans out of 60 bucks each, plus over-priced water, etc. What an-fing hustle.

Anonymous said...

Oh, wait she doesn't even have any fans in LA anymore! They cancelled her Hard LA show for "reasons beyond their control". Really poor ticket sales and people on the West Coast being smart enough to know what an f-ing hustle this would turn out to be. I am mad at myself her even giving her the benefit of the doubt after that NYT article. She also owes an apology to the writer of that article, who was spot-on in retrospect.

Anonymous said...

I paid $50, waited 7 hours to see her. When she finally comes out her mic doesn't work. Oookay, she starts singing "Bucky Done Gun" and we all start dancing and going crazy until she does "Tekilla" and then stops singing, starts playing with the lights and doing basically nothing for 20 minutes (she probably didn't know people had been standing there for about 8 hours just to see her and were exhausted, dehydrated and in need of a good MIA moment). Then she says she doesn't have the playlist and wastes another 10 minutes asking the audience what they want to hear. Finally, she plays "Boyz" and here I thought she would redeem the silliness that had been going on so far. Boyz and World Town were fantastic and that's when it started pouring hard.

I was actually happy it was raining because it was so humid but all of a sudden, oh-oh, show's over! She does an a-capella version of "Born Free" and walks off the stage. Confusion. Confusion until the guards start telling everyone that the show is over and they must leave.

I was disappointed. Someone in the line for the ferry was saying "Ha! She must be counting all the money she made". It did feel like a total rip off.

Anonymous said...

Nice Pictures from the show
http://handcraftedbymartin.tumblr.com/

xoxo

Erin Gallagher Illustration said...

I guess I'm in the minority, but I think some of these reviews are a bit harsh on MIA. Clearly there were a ton of technical problems, and that's not really in her control. I think part of the issues with her actual performance was her getting a bit frustrated and it seemed to me like she was trying to stall a bit. I was disappointed with the beginning, but I felt like she had brought it back around when she played Boyz and World Town, and it's a shame she couldn't keep going. If she had continued, with no more tech problems, it could've been an awesome show, despite the bad start, but we'll never know. I wouldn't like it if people judged my entire career on one job I did, so I'm not going to say I'll never see MIA again or even listen to her music because of technical difficulties and lightning at the only show I've been to...that's pretty fickle. I guess I'm also the only was who was completely annoyed by Skream + Benga, or more accurately their ridiculous MC. Also, from what I understand, Die Antwoord are supposed to be kind of a satire, so I think their balls-out-crazy lyrics are tongue-in-cheek. They were awesome.

Anonymous said...

No Erin, I'm with you. Skream & Benga are great, but the MC they had sounded like he had tourette's. He got really annoying, really fast.

Tats said...

soooooooooooooo dissapointed. m.i.a sucks. i want my money back.