The many phases/faces of Jamaican mega-star Grace Jones unfold at the Palais tonight, as the queen of subversion unleashes her craft on Melbourne as part of her Hurricane world tour. Australian fans have waited a long time for Jones, so she isn’t about to sleep walk through a show she’s been touring for four years now, in fact Grace demands her audience’s attention from start to finish in an exhaustive two hour showcase of costumes most drag queens would consider ‘over-the-top’, comical rants and that deep arresting voice.
Once a very late Jones decides she is ready to see us, the Palais curtain raises to reveal a body sheathed entirely in a silver satin sheet, looking like some forgotten mannequin left behind in Studio 54’s attic. From beneath the shroud only a rumbling voice and minimal movements indicate human involvement, but the exaggerated height and shape suggest something even more sinister lurks beneath. Here (almost) before us, larger than life, is the original pop provocateur and shock-style icon poised to prove she’s still very much boss of her quarter. Suddenly the shroud slips away, revealing Jones - dressed as a zebra - and the whole crazy ride kicks off as she prances animatedly about the stage under an orange spotlight.
Each song in the set, which heavily covers 2008 album Hurricane and most of her ‘80s hits, is accompanied by different, equally extraordinary Grace-look; horror/demon drag (Devil In My Life), walking mirrorball (Pull Up To The Bumper), tropical Rasta-chick (My Jamaican Guy) etc… but proving you just can’t beat a little black dress; Grace wows us the most in a subtle cocktail gown, performing a flawless tango partnered by a pole-mounted legless dummy of herself during I’ve Seen That Face Before. These kinds of choreographed pop-circus’s are usually so strategised they fast become bland-fests, but Grace from inside her hyper-surreal concert display, serves so much personality she easily remains the sole focus throughout... If not her appearance, then at least because things generally look to be teetering on the brink of collapse throughout.
In what could have been a momentum killer, Jones’ costume changes demand she spend a considerable amount of time off stage. To ensure focus does in fact remains on her, mic in hand Grace’s offbeat commentary keeps the crowd roaring as her minions prep her for yet another grand entrance. “I nearly didn’t make it here tonight.” She quips from back-stage, “I passed out at the airport with a bottle. They had to call a doctor.” She continues with a half-arsed attack on the twitter-verse, “Does anybody out there twit? Should I backstage twit you? Okay… Twit, twit, twit.” But the hilarity peaks as she shamelessly professes, “My vanity’s gonna send me straight to hell. I just hope hell has straws so I don’t mess up my lipstick when I have a drink.”
Her adoring fans are collectively gasping in awe one moment and laughing out loud the next, but for me its the chaos element which provides the most delicious aspect to Grace’s show. The failed attempt to get fans up on stage during Love Is The Drug, the confetti cannons misfiring, Jones forgetting her band member’s names all helped to make us feel connected to the person behind the performer and not just spectators of some faded star being wheeled around in pre-arranged motion. If there’s one thing Jones has repeatedly asserted since the late ‘70s when she shifted from modelling into music – don’t expect a compliant clothes horse offering nowt but a blue steel gaze. The fact is, the 62 year-old’s movements on stage were so incredibly lithe - even wearing a dress the size of a small house and ten-inch heels – she becomes almost dizzying to watch.
By the close of the main show, the audience are on their feet and it feels as though we at last have arrived on Grace’s plain. Hurricane is performed in a billowing cape, engulfing the entire stage with the assistance of wind machines, while huge projected black clouds roll across the backdrop. Grace’s voice soars above the faux storm and the alien vision on stage melts away all sense of reality. Then before a hysterical crowd, Grace returns for one encore and drives home her legend status with a rousing Slave To The Rhythm. Grace is at last fully unveiled as she extends her signature song’s refrain to lead a sing-a-long, and her simple enjoyment of this moment is plain for all to see.
Whether it’s a sign that Grace has relaxed too much or some well planned whimsy, the whole bonkers extravaganza ends with the weak, tinny sound of Grace sloppily crashing two cymbals together. “This is for you,” she enthuses the audience, before holding the cymbals between her knees and awkwardly making them turn, kind of like she was miming riding a bike, but not really…? In its lame inadequacy, this act was the perfect end to a seriously impressive show. By that point Grace had overstimulated and confounded the audience so much, it was as if she had read our need for some relieving daftness to go home on. Many great and not-so-great artists have tried, and continue to do so, but after spending a night on planet Grace, I don’t see how anyone could hope to keep up with this Jones.
PALAIS SET LIST:
Devil In My Life
Love You To Life
La Vie En Rose
My Jamaican Guy
Well Well Well
Love Is The Drug
Libertango (I’ve Seen That Face Before)
Pull Up To The Bumper
Slave To The Rhythm