M.I.A. Tattoo Rock Parlour, Toronto ON, May 3

M.I.A. Tattoo Rock Parlour, Toronto ON, May 3
Photo: Atsuko Kobasigawa
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Last night, M.I.A. played the kickoff party for Canadian Music Week 2014 at the tiny Tattoo Rock Parlour on Queen West. The show was free, after being moved from the much bigger Younge-Dundas Square, and admission was given to 400 people who waited for hours in line or entered a lottery system. The room was accordingly filled with the energy of super fans who couldn't believe they were lucky enough to be there.

M.I.A. took the stage flanked by a pair of spastic hip-hop dancers and a backup singer, blasting into a set that evenly mixed songs from her new album, Matangi, with old favourites. Her set moved forward at a fever pitch, propelled by her considerable back catalogue of hits and fan favourites. Highlights included songs like "Boyz," "Bird Flu" and "Galang," all of which were performed with a perfect combination of virtuosity and over-the-top energy that only comes after years of touring.

This was one of the smallest rooms M.I.A. has played in recent years, and she embraced her environment, interacting with fans, smiling and recounting a story of her first show in Toronto, held at the similarly-sized Drake Hotel. The night had the energy and chaos of an underground hip-hop or punk show, all the more so since we were seeing a superstar in unusually close quarters.

She spent the last few songs performing in the audience, singing from on top of the bar, and finally perching on the railing in the back for set closers "Paper Planes" and "Bad Girls." After some technical problems, she led the crowd in an a cappella version of "Bad Girls," before returning to the stage and doing it again with a backing track.

Then it was over, with no encore. Fans might have wanted another song, but no one walked away feeling like she didn't give it all she had.