M.I.A. at Sound Academy

M.I.A. takes control at the Sound Academy

And the show starts with M.I.A. being, er, MIA. The internationally acclaimed electronic shock rocker is late. M.I.A.'s tour DJ comes on stage to let the crowd know she's running behind and starts spinning some floor-vibrating beats to get the crowd to "vibe out and start dancing." It works.

Some 20 minutes later, M.I.A. hits the stage. Playing the undesirable Sound Academy last night, Maya Arulpragasam is on her second night of her fall international tour for her third album, /\/\/\Y/\ (Maya). With a multi-layered get-up that was slowly shed to reveal a black "Fuck Google, Ask Me" T-shirt and sunglasses, M.I.A., a recent mother, had three back-up singers in full burkas. She does like the controversy, even though the message comes off as overly contrived all-too often. And to stoke the fire more, she had two redhead-looking b-boy dancers allowing her to play off her controversial, YouTube-censored ginger-genocide video for "Born Free."

M.I.A. at Sound Academy

But M.I.A. is very much a performer. She has her character-shtick-real-life-persona very much on lock. And she's damn good at it. She let the well-informed crowd know of her anti-authority and anti-consumerist ideals at various points, once yelling: "I don't give a fuck if no one buys my shit, it should be free!" Meanwhile the crowd threw down $40-75 to be at the show.

M.I.A. at Sound Academy

Hitting the stage to the new, danceable "Illygirl" she had the audience's arms in the air. And she kept them there. But it was when the DJ switched to the past catalogue of smash-up, eclectic hits - Arular (2005) and Kala (2007) - that the audience lost themselves. It was evident when the rowdy anthem "World Town" hit the diverse crowd that the mood changed. And talk about a diverse crowd - I was standing amongst hip-hop kids, indie rockers, a couple punks, club-ready girls and some suits in the $75-a-pop VIP. Then again, Toronto is a true "World Town."

M.I.A. at Sound Academy

The 70-minute set mixed new and old, and often extended or remixed tracks. "Bamboo Banga" was given a distortion-heavy intro and other songs were blended with very M.I.A. multi-sound transition beats. The rapper-turned-pop-star even jumped on her DJ table to dance along. The production was fair with lots taking place on stage (see: three burka-wearing back-up singers, two hip-hop dancers, a DJ and M.I.A.'s protĂŠgĂŠ Rye Rye who opened the night with her a machine gun-fast lyrics and stellar dance moves). But sometimes this just blankets the fact that there's no live band, just a singer and DJ.

M.I.A. at Sound Academy

Behind the onstage dance war zone was a massive new-age barcode. The barcode was then dropped to reveal a pixilated screen that ran your branded M.I.A.-inspired kitsch art of neon colours and flash videos, similar to the new video for "Story To Be Told," which fell flat on the audience. Most of the new material, actually, felt stale in comparison to the old, well-traveled tunes. This save for the accessible club track "XXXO," which she performed live for the first time, and the punk-slash-distorted banger "Born Free." For the latter, which was the closer, M.I.A. called for a mosh pit, but didn't really get a full one.

M.I.A. at Sound Academy

Changing up the setlist from last night's Montreal stop, which kicked off the tour, M.I.A. opted for a four-song encore over the previous one-song conclusion - an encore that actually had the VIP crew off their couches and leaning against the rails. This came with the obvious international crowd-pleaser "Paper Planes." The point when everyone, understandably, lost their shit.

But to end the night, M.I.A. closed with a dance party inviting the crowd onstage for "Boyz." Notably standing on the speakers and leaning into the crowd for much of the set, allowing many wandering hands to reach up, M.I.A. at one point asked the security to grab a hold of her leg so she could "connect with them." And closing with a giant dance-off onstage, the connectivity was physically, if not audibly on display.

M.I.A. at Sound Academy

M.I.A.'s Setlist:

-World Town
-Steppin' Up
-Bamboo Banga
-Bucky Done Gun
-Story To Be Told
-Born Free


-Paper Planes
-10 dollar

Writing by Ryan Bolton / Photography by Matthew McAndrew

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