M.I.A. Danforth Music Hall, Toronto ON, July 18

M.I.A. Danforth Music Hall, Toronto ON, July 18
Photo: Carrie Musgrave
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There's no denying that M.I.A.'s cultural cachet has dwindled since the run-up to 2010's disappointing ///Y/. But one lackluster album doesn't diminish the astounding line-up of banging tracks Maya Arulpragasam has amassed in her short career, a fact that was top of mind for the packed crowd of young fans on hand this night.

After an extended intro involving what sounded like a Hindi a cappella track, the singer took the stage flanked by a back-up singer, drummer and dancer to the pounding rhythms of "Only 1 U." Draped in a hooded sweater and sparkling shawl, Arulpragasam stalked the stage, toying with the eager crowd. Unfortunately the pounding bass was too much for the Music Hall's sound system, and rumbling bottom end drowned out her vocals for much of the first few numbers, including current single "Bring the Noize." Sound issues were somewhat sorted by the time she teased "XR2" then slid into "Bucky Done Gun," by which point the singer had also loosened up a bit on the stage.

A massive backdrop resembling the cover art for "Bring the Noize," with "Matangi" written across the top suggested that this current tour was meant to promote M.I.A.'s forthcoming record, bumped back to the fall after a planned spring release. But Arulpragasam instead worked her way through her back catalogue like a champion, with selections from her first two albums eliciting a rapturous response and crowd sing-alongs.

During tracks like "Boyz" and "Bamboo Banga" she appeared at the top of her game, even wading into the crowd and standing on the barricade during "Boyz," but stumbled getting back onto the stage. But she appeared nonplussed during the between song interludes; while her dancers, which fluctuated between one and three people, took the spotlight, she regularly fussed with her in-ear monitors or motioned to the side to turn up the stage monitors. Despite her at times distracted appearance, the crowd ate up the show.

After closing with the dissonant "Born Free" Arulpragasam and crew returned to the stage to run through "Galang," and "Paper Planes," throwing flowers into the crowd in between, before closing the night with crowd favourite "Bad Girls." Her stage set might have said Matangi, but this night was all about reminding us all what made M.I.A. so great in the first place.