Tuesday, February 08, 2005

m.i.a. take it to the house

this way we take it to the house
take it to the house
take it to the house

(pic jacked from Brooklyn Vegan and there’s more…)

How many hipsters does it take to turn a bailecrunkdancehallhop set into a dance party? More than the Knitting Factory could hold.
That was a dis.
But it ain’t the truth… No, the problem with the M.I.A. show at the Knitting Factory was that there were TOO MANY folk in that benzel. In most cases it would have been a tight little reggae-grind anyway but that Diplo ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’/ ‘Love Cats’ blend left me wanting to throw some ‘bows like Molly Ringwald in the BKfst club. But the four ladies onstage obliged with little ‘white-girl’ kicks that I couldn’t peg as irony or some Acton action. But they had the crowd at ’ello. The Dip set lost momentum when he switched over to the Jay-Z / Mike Jones ‘Advantage’ track (tennis shoe squeaks without the walking bassline couldn’t hold the weak-ass Knitting Factory sound system). But when he dropped (what I assume was) the Ce’cile joint called ‘Na-na-na-na,’ a truly amazing blend of dancehall vocals and machine-gun bass rolls, my amps were back up. Big up. And I’m sure this is the only review of the M.I.A. show that will mention that the DJs played four Peedi Crakk songs.
The show was enjoyed by... most but two criticisms of M.I.A.’s show sort of baffled me. One criticism was of her stage presence and an offhand crit of her dance moves. We’re catching her before the rote sets, ‘any town’ banter and 1-2-step choreography, which I’ll gladly catch at a Ciara show. As for the dancing itself… It WAS pretty minimal given the context of wall-to-wall dance beats but her ‘one-for-the-head’ hand movements had a barely-there cool that reminded me of Sade’s little Salsa steps and Mase’s sleepy Prep revival (probably losing hipster readers…. NOW!). The lackadaisical moves, home-made beats, unpolished vocals and throw-away costume changes go together like metallic lightning bolts and ‘Lo-life t-shirts. It will take hard work to maintain the amateurish perfection.

The other criticism was along the same lines. The show reminded Ben Mellman (aka DJ Sparks) of a high-school talent show… and I took that as a GOOD thing. (Yo, that new girl from India or Sri Lanka or some shit seems pretty cool. I heard she hooked up with that white-boy with the turntables and shit and they’re gonna do something for talent night… and that fro-hawk girl and ‘em are gonna dance or some shit.). Musicality be damned! Soul, selection and styleeee can get me through the night. I couldn’t help but flash on Kelefah Sanneh’s piece a year or so ago about the charms of ‘bad’ singing (Kanye on ‘Slow Jamz,’ Pharell on anything) in an ‘American Idol’ ‘good’-singing context. Nobody beats the Biz. (K was in the Factory so I actually got to drop some props on him).

My criticism of the show wasn’t of any of the elements of the show it was how those elements were put together. Haven’t folk studied the way Common encourages DJ Dummy to bring in other instrumentals/beats to break up straight album cuts? Isn’t ?estlove’s orchestration of the Illadelphonics showing the translation of the DJ through a band? Haven’t hip-hop shows like the Fugee’s cut-and-switch mega-medley shown how effective the mixtape strategy applies to a live show? Diplo definitely understands the concepts especially when he used some of the Piracy Funds Terrorism tracks instead of the Arular album beats. (Was I the only person in the house who could have chanted over M.I.A.’s last song: ‘It’s bigger than hip-hop-hip-hop…’? I thought the crowd would have had a little Revolutionary But Gangsta attitude at the ready) But the DJ took an L when he killed a PFT track before M.I.A. could vibe properly off of it. The Eurythmics ‘Rain’ synth line had Maya this close to running down Lennox. But we’ll never know where she would have taken it…or maybe the next show…

There’s an organic quality to the M.I.A. blend. Political slogans. Schoolyard chants. Beat street sexiness. Cosmopolitan. Naive. By not being reverential to any particular style she pays homage to the ‘joint producing genre’ essence. Smack it up, flip it, rub it down. Her blend makes contrived cultural crossovers look like one joke mash-ups.