Music Review

M.I.A. sticks to her guns at House of Blues

M.I.A. performed at the Soho House Satellite Nights series in 2013.

Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

M.I.A. performed at the Soho House Satellite Nights series in 2013.

Considering the rate at which contemporary pop stars have to reinvent themselves, you might expect frequent, stylistic lane changes over the years from Maya Arulpragasam, better known as M.I.A. It’s a concept the 38-year-old British-Sri Lankan rapper hinted at Monday night at the House of Blues — touring behind her fourth album, “Matangi” — on songs like the YOLO-critical “Y.A.L.A.” “Back home where I come from we keep being born again and again and again.”

It would be hard for her to live any more lives at once in her music. There was a direct through-line between that recent track and older material reaching back to her breakthrough 2006 album “Arular” — which is to say, all musics at once, pulling from almost every corner of the globe for its polyglot stew of indigenous dance cultures, filtered through the lenses of post-colonial electronic dance music and hip-hop. A typical song, like “Bucky Done Gun,” which she delivered perched on the edge of the stage in an oversize orange raincoat, sidestepped among the Caribbean, South Asia, London, and New York City, with its horn fanfare samples and hybrid cadence, toggling between aggressive and sing-song.


“World Town,” with its refrain “hands up, guns out,” told most of the story; this is music that sounds like a dance party breaking out in the middle of an armed conflict. But for all her political overtones — and she kept things mostly vague this time with a reference to her ongoing legal troubles with the NFL — it was the party side that won out this night. A troupe of dancers joined her onstage throughout to add energy to her mostly listless posturing (outside of a calculated stage dive), but toward the end she encouraged a few dozen fans to join her onstage.

“This is the lesson,” she said to one fan trying to climb over the barricade before she launched into the appropriately thematic “Pull Up the People.” “Help her, then help yourself. There’s way more of you than a bunch of security guards. If you decide to help each other you can do anything.” “That’s the M.I.A. thang,” she rapped over the song’s clattering percussion and kitchen-sink samples. There’s no need for a rebirth when it’s all happening at once.

Luke O’Neil can be reached at
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