Grace Jones review – eerily unchanged artist has us all slaves to her rhythm

The Guardian
The Guardian
Aloof yet emotive … Grace Jones opening the Meltdown festival, London.

Grace Jones appears on stage at the Royal Festival Hall in silhouette: a long, impossibly lean figure in an enormous hat, framed in an oblong of white light at the top of a flight of stairs. It could be an image from A One Man Show, the 1981 tour and subsequent “video album” that was the dernier cri in arty pop cool 40 years ago: a series of beautifully staged, strikingly lit vignettes with the besuited Jones a perfectly poised figure at their centre.

As she descends the stairs to the strains of Nightclubbing, opening the Meltdown festival she is curating, Jones seems impossibly stylish and eerily unchanged. She is clad once again in a suit and heels, and the enormous hat eventually comes off to reveal precisely the kind of flat-top haircut she sported in the early 80s, while her sprechgesang voice remains as commanding as ever. But a few weeks after her 74th birthday, Jones feels less an icily remote figure than a gleeful agent of total chaos.

Her between-song chat ranges from gnomic – “It’s been a long time,” she growls, “like no time at all” – to so out-there it seems to confuse even her: “Does that make any fucking sense to you?” she frowns. Her performance of My Jamaican Guy ends with Jones at the top of the stairs, flat on her back with her legs in the air, wildly scissor-kicking. There are numerous costume changes, but not all the costumes are capable of containing the woman wearing them: “Maybe you’ll get to see some tit,” she says, pre-empting another wardrobe malfunction. At one point, accompanied by a gospel choir, she sings the old hymn Amazing Grace prostrate on the stage, a performance that is concluded by a stagehand dragging her into the wings by her ankles.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the show is that the music doesn’t feel overshadowed by the performance. There are a couple of new songs: the best is Afrobeat-infused and features a chorus of “I’ll paint you all black”, a line Jones keeps returning to long after the track is finished, barking it in the face of the aforementioned stagehand between songs. But the set draws most heavily on her early 80s albums: Demolition Man and Walking in the Rain (both from Nightclubbing), and a version of Roxy Music’s Love Is the Drug that turns the song upside down, replacing its louche mood with an almost menacing urgency. The tracks still sound unlike anything else in pop, occupying a unique space between reggae and post-punk, their mood somehow managing to be aloof and emotive at the same time. A performance of the autobiographical Williams’ Blood underlines how good her last studio album, Hurricane (now 14 years old), was.

A kind of climax is reached with Slave to the Rhythm. Jones performs it while standing on a platform and hula-hooping, an activity that causes another wardrobe malfunction: she tries decorously covering herself with the hand that isn’t holding her microphone before giving up. It’s the kind of spectacle you should, theoretically, just gawp at – it isn’t every day the Royal Festival Hall plays host to a 74-year-old woman hula-hooping half-topless – but people aren’t gawping. The entire audience are on their feet, dancing and singing along. It’s a sight that says a lot about what a transcendent song Slave to the Rhythm is, and what an utterly inimitable artist Grace Jones continues to be.

  • Grace Jones is at the Royal Festival Hall, London, tonight, and the British Summer Time festival, Hyde Park, London, on 10 July.

Comments / 13

Ave Joe

I remember seeing Grace in the 80's and 90's making music and movies. She's still doing her thang. That's good!

Stacy Clark

I just love her style I am a tall women and I have always looked up to her.


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