Rarely do you get to see an artist who is perched on the brink of stardom. Two Fridays ago, I think I caught M.I.A. at this point of her career. All of the “cool” high-schoolers were dolled up and ready to go, and there were a lot of them (as there were plenty of us old folks, or at least, I felt old). There was serious energy before, during and after the show; the pre-show energy was the opening band’s doing, while the after-show energy was because M.I.A. did not disappoint. She has incredible stage presence, commanding the crowds attention at all times.

The show opened with the awesome half rock, half electronic foursome, Holy F*ck, who cruised through a crushing hour-long set. I am just hoping that some of those American Apparel’d high schoolers paid attention to the fire that is Holy F*ck; each time I see this group they get impossibly tighter. If these kids want to stay cool, they’ll need to know this group in the future.

The one disappointment of the night came from my own stupidity. I must remind everyone that we’re fans here at LMB, not professional music critics. That being said, I forgot to check the batteries in my camera before the show and before I could even get a shot of Holy F*ck, the camera ceased to function. Total bummer. But a empathetic, real cameraman helped me out after Holy F*ck’s set, so I was able to get some shots of M.I.A. (thanks, whoever you are!). My apologies to Holy F*ck, though; such a rookie mistake.

M.I.A. @ The Aragon Ballroom, Chicago 05/09/08

When I arrived at the Aragon, Holy F*ck had just began their set, and while walking up the stairs to the main room the place was rumbling from the heavy bass and kick drum. All I could think about was how nice I was going to be to see this band on a huge PA. Then I remembered that the sound at the Aragon is normally kind of cavernous and echoy. When I got into the main room, the kick was drowning out some of the keys but the closer you got the clearer the sound.

The boys played an inspired set, ready to impress the already swelling crowd at the Aragon. Multiple times during their show they got the full attention of the crowd, drawing everyone into the hypnotizing euphony. I caught a few distractors in the middle of realizing that the music going on in front of them was ridiculous, sometimes stopping mid-sentence and sending their gaze to the stage. Holy F*ck crushed the jarring “Super Inuit” and let hook ride for a good long time on “Lovely Allen.” That song’s peak is nearly incomparable, but really, so are many of the high energy sections of Holy F*ck’s music. To put it simply, I had to pick my jaw up off the ground when their set ended.

M.I.A. @ The Aragon Ballroom, Chicago 05/09/08M.I.A. @ The Aragon Ballroom, Chicago 05/09/08M.I.A. @ The Aragon Ballroom, Chicago 05/09/08

In between bands, M.I.A.’s DJ spun some hip music to keep the masses moving; you know, the standard Justice or Daft Punk tune. I wish the DJ was M.I.A.’s producer and former boyfriend Diplo, but it wasn’t.

The lovely M.I.A.’s introduction to the stage was quite possibly the oddest intro I’ve ever seen. Maybe as a political statement on Myanmar, the screen behind the stage projected a speech from an Asian man concerning the overthrow of a government. Who knows which one? M.I.A. came out playing “Bamboo Banga” and was dripping in sequins and coolness.

The stage show was simple yet effective — M.I.A., the DJ and two back-up dancers. She cruised the stage, showing a fondness for dropping poses on the floor monitors and at one point diving onto the masses for a short crowd surf. The sound was big and full of bass, but the music was almost an afterthought. This was most definitely a performance more than a musical act, which in her case is totally fine.

M.I.A. @ The Aragon Ballroom, Chicago 05/09/08

Two highlights of the night were when M.I.A. invited all the ladies (most didn’t make the cut) on stage for “Boyz” and the final song of the night “Paper Planes.” After the end of the main set, the place was fully expecting an encore featuring her most popular song, myself included. When the house lights went on I thought the place would turn to rioting. Thankfully, the lights went off seconds later and M.I.A. returned to the stage for two more songs, the last of which was “Paper Planes.” The Aragon went crazy and she left the crowd in an uproar. I hope all the youngsters found their way into the after-party, for anyone else, if you get the chance to see either of these acts in the future, don’t think twice.