M.I.A. is her own kind of pop star.
Before a highly excitable crowd Saturday at the sold-out Electric Factory, the British-born Sri Lankan agit-poptress also known as Maya Arulpragasam took to the stage after a video of an irate Asian man opining via subtitles that "we the minority" have no choice but to "overthrow the government."
M.I.A., who intentionally traffics in political dynamite, followed that salvo with one of her own. Wearing white hot pants over a silver-and-gold bodysuit and enough war-paint mascara to make Amy Winehouse blush, the global street-beat siren kicked off a ridiculously energetic 90-minute show with "Bamboo Banga," the Jonathan Richman-quoting lead track off her sophomore album,
"Barbarella look like she's my dead ringer," she chanted, assisted by Philadelphia DJ Low B. "M.I.A comin' back with power, power."
She can say that again. M.I.A. first emerged with
her 2005 Roman-candle debut whose Day-Glo aural graffiti drew on Brazilian baile funk, Puerto Rican reggaeton and all-American old school hip-hop.
suffers somewhat from second-album syndrome - it's richer rhythmically, but the tunes aren't as memorable as on
which was one of the most buzzed-about debuts of the decade.
But since then, M.I.A. has grown as a performer, and her radical-chic populism successfully has made a move on the mainstream. At the electrified Factory, the MC and visual artist entertained her multiculti audience with a sensory overload that mashed-up kinetic electro-clash beats with video images of people dancing, and rioting, in the streets. She was a commanding presence onstage and off, such as during the stomping "Bird Flu," when dozens of audience members took her place while she scampered to the back of the house to finish the song.
Saturday was the last night of M.I.A.'s tour, and it had extra juice, too, because of Arulpragasam's Philadelphia connections. Along with openers the Cool Kids, the Chicago old-school rap duo who unapologetically invoke Kriss Kross and refer to themselves as "the black Beastie Boys," it was the local debut of Santogold, Philadelphia native Santi White, who used to lead the excellent New Wave band Stiffed.
Dressed as if auditioning for a reshoot of the
cover, White showed off jittery, finger-in-the-light-socket songs such as "Creator," and was joined by rapid-fire Philadelphia rapper Amanda Blank and partner in rhyme Spank Rock. And all hands were on deck for the finale of "Paper Planes," which samples the Clash's "Straight To Hell" punctuated by gunshot sounds, and boasts "if you catch me at the border, I got visas in my name."
Only she doesn't. Arulpragrasam, whose father is a member of the Tamil Tigers, the opposition group that has been responsible for civilian deaths in its fight with the Sri Lankan government, according to the Human Rights Watch monitoring organization, had to cut short her U.S. tour and go home to London, she said, because her visa has expired. "So this might be my last Philadelphia party ever," she said. If so, she went out with a bang.