M.I.A. Nearly Undone by Democratic Impulses at McCarren Pool

Photo: Ryan Muir

M.I.A. invited the ladies onstage halfway through her show at McCarren Park Pool on Friday night, and within seconds the stage was a heaving mass of bodies doing call-and-response on “Jimmy” as the singer passed the mike around (see video). It was an undeniably cool moment that, along with the shimmering yellow, red, and green lights hanging over the speaker stacks, the projected video-game graphics, and the air horns that fired throughout the night, summed up the Technicolor-Jamaican-rave aesthetic that she’s honed into something way more than the sum of its parts. It was also almost the show’s undoing — turns out that the crowd was not just a symbol of democracy, but also full of wannabe stars who hilariously but annoyingly refused to go away for two more songs and kept prancing around at stagefront as if we wanted to watch random Brooklyn hipsters up there.

No, we want to watch stars, and although M.I.A. refused to dominate her own concert — she was done up in a feather headdress that half hid her face, the spotlight never shone on her, and her vocals rose only intermittently above the mix — she did fill the sizable expanse of McCarren pretty effortlessly. (In contrast to openers Holy Fuck, a Canadian four-piece who laid down some groovy Can-type beats but suffered from the lack of a real singer to focus things.) This felt like an arena-ready show, not an easy thing to pull off when your music is all about bizarre polyrhythms and sonic micro-details, but DJ Diplo pummeled the crappy sound system into submission with dive-bomb sub-bass, relentless beats carefully recrafted for the live context, and all those killer choruses. There was also a great hype woman who raps pretty well, dances like an elastic doll, and really deserves an introduction. The final charming touch: paper planes lofted into the crowd at encore. —Ben Williams