Cruïlla Festival, Barcelona, July 7

MIA must be wondering what’s she got to do to get a break. First there was Truffleflavouredchipsgate. Then the duet with Madonna on ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’’ – where, despite the involvement of two of pop’s most creative stars, nobody remembered to write a tune. And recently her stint onstage with Jay-Z at the Hackney Weekend, where her microphone packed in during ‘Paper Planes’ and left her mouthing silent verses on live TV.

Maybe we shouldn’t feel too sorry for her. Jay-Z and Madonna don’t work with just anyone (let’s gloss over Mr Hudson), and she is headlining Barcelona’s Cruïlla. At first, though, all signs point to another misstep. Opening track ‘Bamboo Banga’ is brilliant and thunderingly percussive, but is followed by a ropey ‘Sunshowers’, where a muddy mix – kind of inexcusable bearing in mind the MIA/DJ/backing-singer set-up – conspires to ruin the song’s charm.

MIA’s nothing if not confident, though, and follows this up with a monumentally self-assured take on ‘Pull Up The People’, which bristles with a swagger that dares the crowd to disagree with her. They duly go wild. From then on, the party prevails. “This is my last show this year,” MIA tells the crowd. “I want to remember it.” So she hops offstage to perform 2005’s ‘Galang’ strolling along the crowd barrier, then invites 20 people onstage to dance along to a blistering take on ‘Boyz’. Baile funk throwback ‘XR2’, meanwhile, essentially serves as an excuse for MIA’s highly elastic male dancer to show off his moves.

New songs are in short supply tonight – recent single ‘Bad Girls’ is the newest and there’s only a couple from 2010’s ‘// / Y /’ – but the set is no nostalgia-fest. ‘Bird Flu’ is re-invented with a dancefloor kick, while ‘Story To Be Told’ sounds eerily futuristic in the open air, its stuttering dubstep beat holding off a wall of threatening noise. ‘Paper Planes’ is obviously the massive hit – and is dispatched dutifully before the encore – but like any great party starter, MIA leaves the best for last. ‘Born Free’ comes at the end and is enormous, its mountainous fuzzed guitar essentially a blunt weapon to batter non-believers into submission. You still can’t really make out what she’s saying, but it doesn’t matter. The song has the sort of raw power displayed by the previous night’s headliners, Iggy & The Stooges, and proves that MIA’s still fearsome when she’s given the opportunity.

[i]Ben Cardew[/i]