She made it. That’s one thing that rates this gig above M.I.A.’s other attempted Dublin gigs. Despite having finally managed to schedule a Dublin show without cancelling, there was less excitement about the event than one might imagine. A mixture of the poor ticket sales (due to an off-putting price tag) and the less than glowing reviews of her shows elsewhere left an anxious feeling in the air as the last minute competition winner recruits filled up the venue to a respectable level. As 9pm arrived and a DJ started playing, the crowd were all geared up for Maya herself to come charging onto the stage. She didn’t. Instead we were left listening to some scarcely pleasant nonsense from the DJ while smoke machines slowly covered the venue and the bemused crowd. Almost half an hour of this went by before M.I.A. made her not-so-grand entrance. There were cheers from the crowd and indeciferable noises onstage but soon enough she was stomping around the stage to “Born Free”. For all it’s distorted attempts at intensity, it’s a pretty uninspiring opener. Things continue in this manner for a while, with M.I.A. moving from one side of the stage to another with no real purpose, lost in a cloud of dry ice, while her vocals are equally lost in the din. Her DJ solemnly spins the tunes while a drummer appears for a short while. Most of the visual entertainment comes from her two dancers, giving a display in some form of aggressive dance style that combines mildly impressive breakdance style moves with the childish taunting gestures of a football terrace. Lovely lads they were.
It’s only when she brings out the mainstream hits that the gig begins to work and “Bucky Done Gun” sees her venturing too close to the feverish crowd as they yank her off the edge of the stage down to their level. She returns the favour a short while later when she slowly populates the stage with males (and the odd female) as the opening bars of “Boyz” loop over and over. It’s a spectacle, effective in it’s simplistic excitement but also curious in it’s timing seemingly so early in the set. The boyz make the most of it though, with half of them taking the opportunity to show off their own dancing skills while the other half clammer around M.I.A. stage-right, desperately trying to get close to her and get a picture on their phones. As it turns out, we’re considerably further into the set than one might think. There’s another serious anti-climax as we all watch the bouncers escort the crowd the long way off the stage before they begin the next song. Though decent versions of songs like “XR2” and “Lovalot” follow shortly after, the whole thing is patchy. It’s hit-and-miss with an scoring rate like Dimitar Berbatov. The ups and downs of the show aren’t worthy of a rollercoaster analogy either. No, it was all too gentle. My theory was that her latest album title /\/\/\Y/\ is intended as a graph to explain how her gigs work.
With about 45 minutes having passed, M.I.A. has already left the stage. She’ll be coming back, we are sure, because she hasn’t done the song yet. But has she got anything else in the bag to salvage the gig and show us the wildly exciting performer we all want to see? Thankfully, she doesn’t return with the hit and leave. She gives us “Story to be Told”, complete with dodgy captcha manipulated visuals. It’s pretty good as things go this evening, but you wouldn’t really want to be closing any gig with a performance as inconsequential as that. So she does what she has to do and brings out the big guns. “Paper Planes” sends the whole venue absolutely wild. Again, it’s not that the performance is that great – it isn’t and the sound is quite poor – but rather that this is that moment that everyone has been waiting for. Seeing M.I.A. perform a song that, through several leases of life, has come to be one of the defining tracks of the last few years is what people came to see and they’re going to enjoy it even it it is substandard. In that respect, many probably got what they came for: the hits, drinks and a few other songs designed to be drowned out by inane chatter. For the many attendees who didn’t have to part with €38.50 plus to get in, that probably sufficed. But for the ones that paid, the devoted fans, well, I hope they enjoyed that hour more than I did.