View more photos in Colin Young-Wolff's “M.I.A. 'Secret' Warehouse Party” slideshow.
Like spotting a sasquatch in the woods or a low-flying UFO over a mountain range, the announcement of M.I.A.'s surprise Los Angeles visit was met with disbelief. Could it be true that the politically outspoken Maya Arulpragasam, the critically-acclaimed queen of international beat-melding, sonic architect of Indi(e)an flick Slumdog Millionaire, and one of Time Magazine's “World's Most Influential People,” was going to play a secret Wednesday night, warehouse show for 500 people Downtown?
The mere rumor set online social media world ablaze with speculation and hearsay, and culminated in a long line of watch-ward looking, American Apparel enthusiasts who snaked down Fairfax Blvd. and waited for signs that Turntable Lab had tickets.
The show, also featuring local dubstepper 12th Planet, DJ Blaqstarr and M.I.A.'s music maestro, Million Dollar Mano, reportedly sold out in 20 minutes. The lucky few who snatched tickets–or finessed savvy ex-boyfriends, reunited junior high acquaintances, and label connections for handouts–met another long line outside the warehouse, just adjacent to the cut-and-pasted young-professional habitat, the Biscuit Company Lofts.
But for this rare glimpse of M.I.A. in her element–a small club setting recalling the days before Coachella 2006 and 2009, before constant rotation at Urban Outfitters the year neon came back, before Pitchfork demagoguery and covergirl status– obstacles were of no consequence. You see that hoop, and you jump through it.
For those for who leapt, the reward was sweet when M.I.A. took the stage. After a protracted set by Million Dollar Mano — something seemed awry behind the scenes — M.I.A. shuffled onstage to deep bass thumps that kicked directly to the chest. Her back turned to the audience, M.I.A. swayed side to side, laying down the constrained, nearly robotic mantra of “Bamboo Banger” and occasionally glancing over her shoulder to reveal her oversized sunglasses to the forest of outstretched arms, iPhones in hand.
The crowd compressed against the stage as M.I.A. warmed to the audience, and dropped the hyperkinetic drum rolls of “XR2,” in which she asked the question, “Where were you in '92?” Many members of the sweaty masses could have answered, “breast feeding,” but instead chose to attempt dance moves while jammed together like a crayon box. The energy came in waves; slowing down at moments where M.I.A. seemed a little rusty (“This is the first time Mano and I have played in a year,” she said after he cued up the wrong track), and becoming frenetic when she caught her stride with the glock-cocking, double-dutch beats of “World Town.”
She teased the crowd with an offer of a new song, but never made good, instead rolling out her most up-tempo, fist-pumping tracks like “Bucky Done Gun.” Seemingly a little frustrated with technical difficulties and perhaps some promoter/venue problems — “I'd buy you all drinks tonight, if someone hadn't taken my money,” she joked between songs — the performance concluded with the soaring, Clash-soaked anthem, “Paper Planes.”
Then she was gone. The lights brightened, Mano cued up New Boyz, “You're a Jerk,” and dazed audience spilled back onto the street after the 45-minute set. The disbelief returned and few seemed to grasp what just went down: M.I.A. at her most raw and intimate; an unpolished gem shining through the flaws.