Seeing rapper M.I.A. perform live is like suffering a particularly intense migraine.
The star who was born Maya Arulpragasam gyrates in metallic hot pants, delivering whooping rhymes and rough beats in front of hyperactive computer graphics and a wall of stroboscopes.
M.I.A. ensures concert-goers suffer for her art, with their ears and eyes assaulted. Aggressive, overwhelming, bewildering, provocative, her show will be hated by many, loved by some.
All of which confirms M.I.A.’s pop importance. She is taking her tour around continental Europe through November and December, in support of her third album “Maya,” also written as “/\/\/\Y/\.” Her reception at U.K. shows has been rapturous.
She loves the electronic beats that keep much of Africa, the Caribbean and Brazil jumping. There are slogans, “TXT SPK” rhymes and a sort of patois soup from three continents. The music varies from bafflingly harsh to rewarding.
“Bucky Done Gun” is a clarion call to sweat and badness that ignites crowds; the sexuality of “Boyz” gets them dancing. “Steppin’ Up” has chainsaw samples like an updated Marilyn Manson.
M.I.A.’s political views (first backing the Tamils in Sri Lanka, then claiming links between Google Inc. and the CIA) are muted during the shows -- apart from video clips of Somali pirates. Everything else is switched to overload, with M.I.A., a DJ, and two gold-clad sidemen making an absolute racket.
The visuals are intense. M.I.A.’s self-made album artwork is a frantic mash of digital imagery. A towering video wall on stage fires out dizzying sequences, punctuated by a battery of neon and strobes and M.I.A.’s cavorting.
“Born Free” is the pinnacle at the O2 Academy show in London. The electro-punk attack, aided by an onstage drummer, is visually matched with rhythmic splats of crimson blood.
The calmer “Paper Planes” finishes sets of about an hour long. Based on a sample of the Clash’s “Straight To Hell”, it is M.I.A.’s biggest hit. Aptly, the song is a caustic collision between the sound of gunshots and cash machines.
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(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)