When M.I.A. and A$AP Ferg came to raise hell with their middle fingers raised at the new Knockdown Center in Queens, it was an exercise in liberation. And an exercise it certainly was.
The venue operators, possibly trying to prove their ability to control crowds to the State Liquor Authority that denied their liquor license a few days ago, had the venue littered with security guards that denied entrance to anyone with a backpack and performed pat downs that some concertgoers thought erred on the side of intrusive. Nonetheless, droves of fans squeaked through security and poured into the surprisingly massive venue, anxious to see how the night would go. The venue had a distinct smell that transcended the sweat that would be spilled to the gyrations of rebellious beats bumping out of the PA system. The layers of the weary, snow-laden winter were shed as clammy revelers grooved to a DJ set that sounded great in a space as big as the Knockdown Center. The amount of space does wonders for the acoustics, allowing all of the performances to sound as they were intended instead of washed out or bass heavy.
By the time A$AP Ferg took the stage, the crowd was well stretched and in good spirits, if not a little sweaty. Ferg, and his hype man and "newest A$AP Mob member Marty Baller", took no time to reach level 11, banging out one trap anthem after another. He commanded a strong stage presence, and had an unshakeable confidence evident in his early proclamation: "I'm famous now". When he wasn't beckoning the crowd to turn up, he was spraying them with bottles of water and pouring what appeared to be champagne in the mouths of a lucky few in the front row. Later on, Ferg brought a woman onto the stage to freestyle for a nonexistent chance to become a member of A$AP Mob. At one point, Ferg and Marty even tried to make a wall-of-death mosh with Marty in the middle. While the crowd wasn't exactly feeling the heavy metal ritual, Ferg certainly had their attention. The hit "Shabba" had the entire room bouncing, as the signature drum kick of the anthem pounded holes in their chests.
With the lights back on, attention was drawn upstairs where police officers had made a guest appearance, while security in the front shined flashlights into the crowd. It was never made apparent what they were searching for, but the irony fell somewhere between eerie and hilarious when the lights went down again and the intro to M.I.A's set included the sounds and search lights of police helicopters. When M.I.A. took the stage, the crowd erupted and a push to the front sent some of the people still reeling from Ferg's set seeking cover in the back. It was hard to pin down the demographic there to see Maya; the crowd was extremely diverse, a good sign at a new venue in the most diverse borough, or place in the world for that matter. For the first few minutes of her set, M.I.A. was almost completely unintelligible, seemingly whispering into her mic. Once she removed her sunglasses to a hearty cheer from the crowd, however, M.I.A. owned the stage. Songs from her latest album "Matangi" sounded the best over the PA, and went over the best with the dance-philic crowd. Where she might have lacked in strength of vocal delivery, M.I.A. was aided by a well mixed set that included instrumental interludes that kept the crowd dancing, tireless dancers that livened the atmosphere, as well as the myriad of middle fingers she tossed, saving none after her incident at the Super Bowl led to her being sued by the NFL for $16 million. The versatile stage design that she has been using on the tour adds depth to the overall experience with a dazzling display of lights and an ornate centerpiece donned with symbols. The highlight of her set came when she invited all women onto the stage to dance with her to frenetic "Y.A.L.A." and again for "Bad Girls" keeping with the carefree, party atmosphere that the crowd seemed to appreciate. High fives were abound as the crowd cleared out, and still others sought to keep the party rocking with a DJ spinning towards the exits.
Two M.I.A. shows were originally scheduled to take place at the Knockdown Center, but Thursday's was cancelled. M.I.A. does play another NYC show tonight with Solange at Webster Hall though. More pictures from Friday night's show (5/9), M.I.A.'s setlist included, below...