Live review: Cool Kids and M.I.A. at House of Blues
I’ve seen M.I.A. live around four or five times, and each time I’ve felt the same mix of thrills and chills which barely overcome the overall slight bum-out of spending an hour with an inconsistent vocalist. M.I.A. played two shows in Chicago last week, but one could almost say she played two shows in one night at House of Blues–one inspired, fiery and abrasive, the other somewhat off her game, distracted, and inexplicably winded.
Chicago’s Cool Kids, who’ve been touring with M.I.A. and had a track featured in HBO’s Entourage, showed poise, and traces of understanding about what made old-school rap tours viable experiences: movement. Last weekend, I watched an unofficial video taken from Public Enemy’s first UK tour and the un-choreographed stagecraft of Chuck D, Flava Flav and even Professor Griff was astonishing—talk about poetry in motion. The Cool Kids, however unconsciously, already look like masters of the stage, and Mikey and Chuck are assured on the microphone to boot. People seem to know their tracks already. Oh MySpace generation, you learn so quickly.
M.I.A. didn’t even come on until about 1am, leaving the crowd drained, listless and insane with anticipation. Top that off with a kick-off video piece in Japanese with a political figure cryptically stating that elections and majority rule are completely pointless when the majority sucks (for me, the video went from brilliant to silly to annoying to thought-provoking—a rough approximation of an M.I.A. record come to think of it), and the place was in a frenzy by the time Low Budget dropped the needle.
For the most part, M.I.A. did her part to keep the energy up. She’s developed her rapid body vibration technique well, and she stalked the edges of the stage like a high priestess of global beats. “Boyz” and “Bucky Done Gun” killed as they should and "20 Dollar" was extended with a blend into New Order's "Blue Monday." Her videos, shown on a long three-part screen behind her DJ—she studied art at St. Martin’s after all—were just phenomenal with loops of African guys dancing, M.I.A. driving a cartoon car, and tigers running. But on the whole, she just didn’t sound herself on the microphone, even with backing from her aerobic instructor sidekick. Her frequent requests to the soundman to turn it up on stage were annoying, considering she had the bad habit of setting up directly in front of the speaker columns, causing feedback havoc that distracted from what were otherwise key moments. Crikey, even Ghostface Killah’s crew knew to stay away from the PA stacks.
But the crowd? They went for it, and went wild, as in sweat-soaked, crowd-surfing 21-year-old wild—and I talked to plenty of grown-ups who loved the show too. Also, it should be said that she made a bit of a comeback in the last quarter of the set. The sound in front of the board was massive with Low Budget’s scratching and Baltimore rapper Rye Rye’s solo rhymes hitting right on the money (look for her on Diplo’s Mad Decent label, naturally). As for M.I.A., she’s no less brilliant, but just as frustrating as the last time she came through town. Perhaps the Vic show was better?
Photos: Nicole Radja