So many performers are said to be larger than life, but the showbiz cliché has never been truer than it is for Grace Jones. As she proved last night at her Hollywood Bowl extravaganza, this Jamaica-born model/singer-actress/Studio 54 icon breathes life into costumes the size of New York City apartments: For her impossibly luxurious rendition of the Edith Piaf classic "La Vie En Rose," she donned a fire-engine-red outfit that looked like a cross between a monster mutant rose, a burst of hellfire and a Chinese New Year dragon. Midway through the song, she turned around to reveal that her entire backside was thoroughly naked except for a few strings to hold her facade in place. The well-heeled crowd — seemingly all members of L.A.'s entertainment elite — roared as if they'd seen the second coming.
Which, of course, they had. Jones is the model for countless female performers from Madonna to Lady Gaga who turn style into substance, and her recent, import-only album, Hurricane, is her first in 19 years. She's clearly been an inspiration for renegade male performers as well, like supporting act Of Montreal's leader Kevin Barnes, a man with a kindred flare for ridiculously theatrical surrealism, and even the evening's emcee, punk rock singer Henry Rollins. He, like every entertainer that night, glowed with the excitement of sharing a stage with a reclusive legend.
Joined by a seven-piece band and two backup vocalists, Jones mixed reggae, New Wave, disco, funk, and intensely dramatic art-rock. Nearly every song had its own show-stopping costume that brought rapturous applause: Her get-up for "Love Is the Drug" included massively puffy, green-lit leggings that swelled around her hips like giant glittery edamame. While changing clothes offstage, Jones voiced detailed introductions to each song that lent a sense of unpredictability to her well-plotted set with diction as ornate as her fashion sense. ("Ahhhsss you knooow, I lived in Parisssssss," she said to introduce her son, a percussionist in her band.)
She acknowledged her kinship with Michael Jackson, the curves that came with her 61 years, and just about anything that popped into her free-associative mind. Once you've turned yourself into a human disco ball that reflects shimmering laser light into a nearly 18,000- capacity arena, nearly everything you say or do becomes interesting.
Of Montreal embraced a similar blend of psychedelic glam-rock and WTF theatricality. Dancers wore children's-theatre-on-acid costumes like pig masks and skin-toned leotards. Bizarre poses were struck, and various forms of pantomime made tenuous connections to the actual songs: For "Elegant Caste," special guest singer Janelle Monae strode onstage in a black tux walking a white pug while Barnes made his entrance in a mostly white outfit walking a black pug. The pair continued to duet on a note-perfect cover version of David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream," then embraced and spun around the stage until they nearly keeled over. The craziest moment of a set thick with 'em was when the band's visual director Nick Gould removed his tiger mask, got down on one knee, pulled out a ring, and actually proposed to keyboardist Dottie Alexander, who wiped away genuine tears throughout the next song. That kind of theater you just can't fake.
Grace Jones set list:
"This Is Life"
"My Jamaican Guy"
"La Vie En Rose"
"Love Is the Drug"
"Devil in My Life"
"I've Seen That Face Before (Libertango)"
"Pull Up to the Bumper"
Of Montreal set list:
"Butt Bank intro"
"Nonpareil of Favor"
"Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider"
"For Our Elegant Caste" (w/ Janelle Monae)
"Moonage Daydream" (Bowie cover w/ Janelle Monae)
"The Party's Crashing Us Now"
"Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse"
"October Is Eternal"
"David and Nick's Triumph" interlude (Nick Gould of Montreal visual director proposes to Dottie Alexander, keyboardist)
"Sentence Of Sorts In Kongsvinger"
"Wraith Pinned to The Mist (and Other Games)"
"Touched Somethings Hollow"
"An Eluardian Instance"
"She's A Rejecter"