live at the Echo's Echo Plex Ballroom
Echo Park, Los Angeles, 7/31/2007
Of all the New Girls headed across the Atlantic from the UK, the one offering perhaps the most troublesome, trickiest and toughest listen on the radio is the Sri Lankan-Londoner, Maya Arulpragasam, aka MIA. With few references to any of pops' gilded ages to begin with, there is no easy listening, it takes commitment. Irrepressible in it's nature, fearsome in it's singularity too. The mixture of pop and polemics is never without it's detractors, but in a steamy Echo Plex in Echo Park, on the last and latest hot night of a scorched-earth July, in it's natural environment, MIA made perfect sense.
I knew something good was up when I saw a Bentley Continental GT sticking out of a line of cars that were never going to make the parking lot. One senses they're a pretty egalitarian lot at the Echo Plex, the big Underground sister of Sunset Blvd's Echo. Unapproachable though the Echo Plex is from Sunset on foot, except by way of a piss-pong staircase by the bridge over Glendale Blvd. Christ, someone has to invent a silica based paint that absorbs urine odor, damn! That stairwell must be a borderline public health hazard, someone is going to be overcome by the fumes. Collapse. Die. That piss-pong staircase is Echo Park's biggest single carbuncle.
Piss-Pong staircase aside, it was never going to be easy getting your breath back last night, first of all, there was an almost tangible sense of hysteria on the sidewalk outside the club, grown men without tickets were in tears. Who cannot enjoy that? Beyond the hysteria, there's the music...
Donning an elegantly enhanced Captain's Cap and a natty DARFUR t-shirt (Darfur? Darfur...? Where've I heard of that? Why aren't we engaged in Darfur? C'mon, although Iraq is beginning to look like a home win, and Afghanistan an away draw if we shape up for the second half tactically, Darfur, surely, no disrespect to the Ganjaweed, Darfur can be the GWB generations' Grenada. If only we'd do something about it.) MIA, set against a huge iconic technicolor backdrop, had the audience committed from the first beat. A thing of beauty to behold. I think almost everybody under 25 in Echo Park was there, dancing with their hands above their heads. Beneath that DARFUR t-shirt, I quickly realized, beats the heart of the most contemporaneously pure entertainer.
At one point she appealed to the crowd to help her find a husband, "I have 11 months left on my Visa... enough time to find a husband and have a baby..." Unsurprisingly, there were plenty of offers.
The hits are audacious, of course, and often a symphony of noise. Her debut album 'Arular' was acclaimed globally by more critics than could fit into tonights venue. The single 'Boyz' from the new album, Kala, has been single of the week just about anywhere that matters. Some of the nights' biggest cheers were saved for 'Bucky' - oh those crazed horns!
When the music is as much fun as this, who enjoys it more, the performers or the performed for? I don't know. Me, I was almost entirely immersed. And that feels just great.