|M.I.A. put together an edgy, politically-charged show. (robert e. klein for the boston globe)|
WORCESTER - If you stumbled in to the M.I.A. show at the Palladium Wednesday night knowing nothing about the diminutive Sri Lankan rapper and saw the mass of bodies bouncing, writhing, and pumping their fists to the booming beats, you might have surmised that she's an excellent party hostess. What you wouldn't have gleaned, because of the miserable sound quality, is that M.I.A. has as much desire to express her politically charged views as she does to create rump-shaking rhythms.
In concert and on her two albums, which have reaped oodles of critical praise and made her the dance diva of choice for hipsters unafraid to shake their groove thing, the woman born Maya Arulpragasam isn't just a performer. She's a volcano.
For 80 minutes she spewed rhymes about disenfranchised boys who grow into warlords, class revolution, and economic oppression, while boldly fusing steamy sounds from reggae to UK garage to classic hip-hop to African tribal beats. She also is acquainted with silly fun, rapping about how hot she is and spitting slogans for the joy of the way they sound ("I bongo with my lingo/ beat it like a wing yo"). But much of the lyrical and musical nuance evident on 2005's "Arular" and the recently released "Kala" was heaped into a formless lump above which only the propulsive beats and sampled gunshots rose.
To M.I.A.'s credit, her fierce essence still came through. Songs like "Pull Up the People" did just that, and the trippy "20 Dollar," with its skittering grooves and co-optation of the Pixies' lament "Where is my mind?," evoked the warped atmosphere of playing video games in an opium den.
A gracious hostess, she prowled the stage dancing in synch with a backup vocalist and sidekick rapper - and at one point several dozen giddy members of the audience. She gesticulated alongside images of shimmying children, gun-toting soldiers, and her own drum-banging self on a central video screen, and she fearlessly rapped while body-surfing across the dance floor.
As hard as she worked, M.I.A. seemed to have a more direct connection with those revelers on the floor than the rest of the room, which felt oddly removed from the center of the action, no doubt attributable to the sonic murk.