Concert Review: Knockdown Center Hosts M.I.A. and A$AP Ferg

Friday marked the first big concert held at Maspeth’s Knockdown Center–a 50,000 sq. ft. warehouse that sits among a row of industrial buildings off Flushing Ave. in western Queens, NY. The venue has hosted weddings, gallery openings and some concerts, but none as big as Friday’s bill with M.I.A. and A$AP Ferg.

M.I.A. and A$AP Ferg at Knockdown Center

Despite the potential to be a great, unique venue space, the state Liquor Board seems intent on keeping the Knockdown Center a booze-free zone. Citing issues with crowd control and “drunk young people,” the board denied the Knockdown Center’s request for a liquor license, making Friday night’s show a dry event.

Upon entering the venue, I was given an overly-thorough pat-down–the kind that would cost extra at a massage parlor on Canal St. It was a bit intrusive and unsettling, and I could not help but wonder if this was some kind of play by organizers to prove their responsibility to the liquor board. Despite the zeal of venue security, it appeared that a large number of concertgoers made it inside with contraband–ranging from flasks to other, less legal substances.

The show started with a set from a super-confident A$AP Ferg. Having seen him a few times this year, this was the first time Ferg really had command of his audience without relying on the rest of A$AP Mob. Joined by hype man Marty Baller, Ferg delivered an energetic set of material from his full-length debut, Trap Lord. Other highlights included a freestyle over Future’s “Move That Dope” and a few new songs that featured some heavy trap instrumentals.

With the exception of the slow-burning “Hood Pope,” A$AP Ferg’s set was non-stop energy. Toward the end of his set, Ferg parted the crowd down the middle. With Marty Baller standing in no man’s land, Ferg instructed the crowd to charge at Marty when the beat dropped. Mosh pits have become an unlikely staple at rap concerts, though their “intensity” would make most seasoned hardcore fans giggle.

Ferg’s set came to a close with his two biggest hits, “Shabba” and “Work (Remix).” This set did nothing but reaffirm that A$AP Ferg is more than ready for the limelight, and is fully capable of holding his own without leaning on surprise appearances from A$AP Rocky.

The crowd appeared to double by the time M.I.A. took the stage amid helicopter sound effects and a recording of Edward Snowden. Her stage set featured a backdrop of big technicolor, doily-esque lighting rigs and a gang of strobes lights that matched M.I.A.’s typically colorful aesthetic.

The Sri Lankan rapper was flanked by her DJ and a team of three backup dancers who never stopped moving through the career-spanning 14-song set. The set drew material from all four of M.I.A.’s studio albums, but the tracks from Matangi and Kala seemed to garner the most crowd response.

Despite some early sound issues, M.I.A. seemed to hit her stride with “Bamboo Banga.” Dissatisfied with the distance between the stage and her audience, she performed most of “URAQT” from atop the crowd barricade.

The line between crowd and stage was blurred more than once, as M.I.A. invited fans to dance on the stage for “Y.A.L.A.”, and once again when she invited all the ladies on stage for the anthemic “Bad Girls.” As the crowd took over the stage, M.I.A. scaled the speaker stacks on either side of the stage to find some space.

The pinnacle of the set came from M.I.A.’s most popular track, “Paper Planes.” The whole song felt like a massive sing-a-long with a whole lot of finger-guns in the air each time the chorus rolled around.

With momentum rolling, the set came to a fairly awkward ending as M.I.A. asked the crowd what they wanted to hear. Apparently the crowd wanted to hear “Warrior.” M.I.A. agreed, but informed the crowd she was just going to dance, but not sing. After a few minutes she threw up a peace sign and left the stage.

Seeing such an inclusive, high-energy performance inside this giant space felt like a throwback to the original warehouse raves of yore. With most of the EDM scene moving into swanky, overpriced lounges and dance clubs, this show at Knockdown Center was an unpretentious breath of fresh air.

The venue is still a bit rough around the edges; it isn’t the easiest place to get to, and it could use a significant acoustic overhaul, but the space itself could provide a nice change of pace to larger NYC venues like Terminal 5 and Best Buy Theatre. Unfortunately, the neighborhood and the Liquor Board seem to disagree with that sentiment.

Article by Jason Schellhardt

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