(All photos by Steve Cross.)
When The Spin arrived at City Hall at 8:30 p.m., Canadian lab-rockers Holy Fuck had already taken the stage with their bloopy, glitchy dance beats featuring bass, drums and two knob-twiddlers. There were a few vocoder-distorted lyrics, but mostly hunched-over, jammy grooves that blended into one big kaleidoscopic melty jam.
The crowd filled City Hall about a third full, and over the course of their nearly 30-minute set, we recognized a few songs, "Frenchy's" and "Lovely Allen," both off their full-length debut—songs that also appeared on their 2007 EP.
Nonetheless, for an instrumental set of escalating experimental jamz, it garnered a good crowd response. Already, we noticed said "crowd," full of greater racial diversity than one experienced at "most shows," and also full of young, three-weeks-into-turning-21 drinkers who twirled each other, wore outfits that were totally from Forever 21, and generally worked the whole hipsters trying to get away with it shtick that explains so many getups inspired by decades not actually lived/experienced. (Boots with orange fishnet socks and a turquoise onesie? Gross.)
Yes, we're talking about the '80s. People surely born no sooner than 1990 were spotted in Day-Glo, puffy jackets, pixelated logos, metallic shirts and metallic pants(!) and your general run-of-the-mill thriftstore rejects that the London nu-rave scene made popular again. That means headbands.
But it was a pulsating, mutating beat of awesome with Holy Fuck, and we found ourselves wishing that we still dosed up, or at least got really high sometimes. Soon, the set was over, and next, M.I.A.'s DJ Million $ Mano took the stage and launched into a pop-friendly set, beginning with Three 6 Mafia (as a shout-out to Tennessee), as well as Bell Biv Devoe (yep, "Poison"), Salt 'n' Pepa, The Outfield and a remix of Justice's smash hit "D.A.N.C.E." The club filled in, people looked like they suddenly wanted to draaaaaank and bodies were movin'. From here to Vanderbilt, people from all walks of life were workin' what their mama's gave them. M.I.A.'s music really is border-crossing, if you allow that to include crossing zip codes.
As the beats throbbed, people waved their hands in the air and got all stumbly and rowdy for M.I.A. It was 9:45 p.m.
When M.I.A. finally took the stage just after 10 p.m., she followed a backdrop video that played the radical election speech of Kouichi Touyama, a left-wing dissident who ran for Tokyo governor recently, and essentially indicated that elections are useless because they only cater to the majority, and that the country should be destroyed. A few people booed, but as the speech got nuttier and nuttier, the crowd cheered. We assume that's because white college kids will cheer for anything being destroyed.
Then M.I.A. came out in a shiny jacket of her own and said: "I didn't do a soundcheck today. So this is as real as you're gonna fuckin' get me, Nashville." She launched into "Bamboo Banga" and then "World Town" and played a set that incorporated Kala and Arular, all in front of a huge streaming video of machine guns, third-world images, Contra-looking palm trees, dancing and general Nintendo-like images, logos, lasers and gunnnnzzz.
The beats were hot and the thumps were primal, and we were treated to "Pull Up the People," the luscious "Sunshowers" that gave her backing vocalist a chance to belt it on the chorus and "$20," which has M.I.A. covering the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind." Then it was "$10" off her first record, a song about child prostitution that is oddly totally danceable and brought a big crowd of people on stage to shake their money makers.
That's the thing about M.I.A.: Violent terrorism never sounded so damn fun. Same goes for infectious disease: "Bird Flu" was a big hit, and an encore brought "Galang"—and crowd-surfing. Then we got "Amazon" and the big finish was of course the gunshots-for-beats "Paper Planes."