Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Devil in Ms. Jones

July 27, 2009

Grace Jones at The Hollywood Bowl
Photo: mine 2009

In case anyone still thought “World Music” couldn’t be highly theatrical, the ever-present KCRW put together a program on Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl to correct that misconception. Of course the KCRW-sponsored “World Music” programs at the Hollywood Bowl take that category very, very loosely with bands that are just as likely to be American or Canadian as they are from somewhere else. But this is Los Angeles, and borders do mean less and less over the years so maybe it isn’t that unfair after all. Sunday’s headliner was Grace Jones. Yes that is one name I never imagined would be associated with a Los Angeles Philharmonic associated event, but there she was performing in front of a huge and very enthusiastic crowd. And despite the ups and downs of the years and her career, there is still no one that does theatrical rock quite like Ms. Jones.

Grace Jones at The Hollywood Bowl
Photo: mine 2009

The evening was about half material from Ms. Jones latest release, Hurricane, which sadly has not yet been released in the US, although it was just about everywhere else in the world last year. (I guess that’s the “world music” part.) After a lengthy tour around the world in support of the new recording, Ms. Jones surprised me first and foremost with the fact that even in the midst of the many songs that made her famous two decades ago, the new material was by far the most intriguing in her set. “Hurricane”, “William’s Blood”, and “Corporate Cannibal” all delivered the grooves one might expect from Ms. Jones, but seemed more urgent and frankly deeper than some of her well know dance-floor anthems.

Grace Jones at The Hollywood Bowl
Photo: mine 2009

The crowd was on its feet for most of the set through “Pull Up to the Bumper”, “My Jamaican Guy”, “Demolition Man”, “La Vie en Rose”, and “Love is the Drug”. Of course all of this was augmented with multiple audacious costume changes. In fact, there was a different outfit for almost every number in the show. This did slow things down, and it left Ms. Jones to chat with the audience while behind screens at the back of the stage where all of the quick changes took place. It created a sort of clunky intimacy. But Grace Jones is about an entrance and this is half the fun of the show.

Grace Jones at The Hollywood Bowl
Photo: mine 2009

These are not kitschy Bob Mackie confections one might see on Cher, but Gaultier-inspired designs that were witty and amazingly revealing. Time has done nothing to Ms. Jones that would lead her to eschew donning a mountain of bright red pleats with no back. And I mean no back - top, bottom or otherwise. She opened the show covered from head to toe in a silver reflective sheet that was pulled away at the start of the second song to reveal a white lattice body suit with accompanying headdress. Ms. Jones was having as much fun as everybody else, and she ended the show running right up to the Hollywood Bowl Sunday curfew with house lights coming up even as she continued to speak from the stage inviting all her friends to give her cell phone a ring and join her backstage at the after party. It’s reassuring to see that even with time, some things do stay the same.

Kevin Barnes and pugs
Photo: mine 2009

I’d be remiss to end this post without mentioning the other great performance of the evening from Georgia art rockers Of Montreal. It was a tight and hilarious set with their own freewheeling street theater crew. Think of The Flaming Lips with a more narrative flair. With Of Montreal, we were treated to pug-walking lead singers, a Christmas tear gas attack, a Cardinal led exorcism, and a knife fight between two single-leg neon unitard clad drag queens. I know it may sound like just another day in Los Angeles, but you'd be wrong. Even in the giant space of the bowl, the band unleashed a lot of energy and was quite exciting. So even though it was world music mostly from northwestern hemisphere on Sunday, it didn't really matter. Everyone was having too much fun to worry about any geographical concerns.


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