The first-ever Vulture Festival, a “pop culture extravaganza” put together by New York Magazine and its entertainment subsidiary Vulture was multi-disciplinary series of events that is perhaps an attempt to rival the more cerebral New Yorker Festival. There were multiple discussions including a book talk with authors Chang-rae Lee and Akhil Sharma, an art walk through Chelsea galleries, a screening of the film Fort Tilden, and a musical performance from Solange and M.I.A. to cap off Saturday night.
Solange made news two days after the performance when a video was released of her attacking her brother-in-law Jay-Z in an elevator earlier this month. M.I.A. on the other hand had been more productive recently and spent the two prior nights headlining shows at the Knockdown Center in Queens alongside A$AP Ferg. Her sets were essentially the same from night to night I learned from some front-row fans who attended all three but they didn’t seem too displeased as Maya’s antics favor the front (and those two were later on stage alongside her, but more on that later).
Both musicians shook the floors, walls and steps… basically every surface of the venue was rumbling during their sets (maybe more strongly for M.I.A.) and both performed a song of their own called “Bad Girls”. Solange whipped her way hair and strutted through around ten songs including a couple covers, Kate Bush’s “Cloudbursting” and Dirty Projector’s “Stillness is the Move”. With her most recent release being the True EP in 2012, and only one album before that, there wasn’t a lot for Solange to draw from. But a new album is rumored to be out this summer and Solange’s biggest hit from the EP, “Losing You”, a collaboration with Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange), was her closer. The crowd loved every minute of that song and it served as a good warm-up for the off the wall antics of M.I.A.
M.I.A. exuded energy from even before she took to the stage, pumping up the audience with intro music making it seem like she was a fighter entering the ring and then she arrived. Clad in heavy duty boots and orange overalls, M.I.A. dove into “Bucky Done Gun”. She was aided by three backup dancers and a DJ. There was no live backing band for her material but that wasn’t an issue for anyone. Many of the strongest tracks in her career are off M.I.A.‘s debut album Arular and its follow up Kala which have such a variety of instrumentation and sounds, varying between reggae, rap, dub and more, that it was probably smoother with the DJ.
But as I’ve suggested, her set couldn’t ever be considered a smooth ride, it was aggressive and loud all the way—one of her songs was even “Bring the Noise”. Highlights included the bass rumbling of “Bamboo Banga” and “Double Bubble Trouble” which were particularly destructive even within the rest of her low-end heavy set. But the climax was when M.I.A brought up the first few rows of fans to dole out “Paper Planes” with her. Most of them squeezed in pictures as they were bumping and grinding along to the catchy cacophony before they were escorted from the stage. With her one final song, “Bad Girls”, M.I.A. had people practically hanging from the rafters to watch and dance along to her sweat-producing set. She didn’t leave them wanting for more.