M.I.A. / Santogold - Manchester Academy 2 - 18.12.07

Since when did M.I.A. become the most popular female artist in the western hemisphere? Last time we walked out of a packed out Antony & The Johnsons gig in Manchester to run across town and watch a genius at work barely 40 people were bothered to check out Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam. When we walk into a sold out Academy 2 gig in Manchester the critics have given up scribbling in their notepads and are enraptured by the show in front of us and the audience range from 16yr old nu-rave and grime kids to 55yr old couples.

First up though is the hottest property out of Brooklyn, New York. Despite working with MIA's production team of Diplo and Switch, Santogold has as much in common with the pop sound of Gwen Stefani. Highly stylized Santo's backing dancers and singers look like Panther Sisters with their minimalist tribal moves being an antidote to modern choreography, in this case less is definitely more. The musical influences are wide and all encompassing with classic Motown, soul and reggae mixed up with some contemporary breakbeats and electroclash added to the sound collage. "Shove It" and "LES Artistes" certainly hint at the makings of a modern pop masterpiece of a debut and when she comes back in the new year with a full band we'll be able to witness the full Santogold show.

Before M.I.A. had toured around the world making "Kala" after being banned from entering the USA, she was already making the most ground breaking world music around now. Critics fave from day one she'd recorded and wrote her debut "Arular" with producers Diplo and Richard X and somewhat incredulously members of Pulp, she'd made videos for Britpop also-rans Elastica and the likes of "Galang" and "Bucky Done Gun" had become bootleg acapella's of choice. The only thing that was missing was a fanbase and as we walk in tonight we're still unsure as to how M.I.A. has become so popular because the large number of 40 and 50yr olds aren't here because she's worked with Timbaland or that Beastie Boys have a cameo in "Paper Planes".

With the production values normally associated with an arena show MIA's artschool background has been brought to the fore. Taking off visually from the record sleeves and the offbeat production of the video promos mixing up bright garish cartoons and black and white war films. Seemingly playing most of the tracks of both "Arular" and "Kala" M.I.A. runs through with early tracks like "Sunshowers" and "Pull Up The People" still remaining as vital as they were when they first released. "Uraqt" gets a live bootleg remix into New Order's "Blue Monday" while the newer material such as "Bird Flu" and "Boyz" provoke mental reactions from tonight's crowd. Even the most pop elements of "Jimmy" manage to draw in some eclectic influences resulting in an almost bollywood disco track.

Proving that you can still be commercial on your own terms M.I.A. has become a vital artist that makes Missy Elliot look positively pedestrian. Not only that but the live show tonight proves that hip hop (admittedly in this case mixed with every genre including the kitchen sink) can be performed live in an engaging fashion without resulting in clichés. M.I.A. may have just delivered the live show of 2007

Alex McCann

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