Live Music + Gig Reviews

Grace Jones @ Roundhouse, London

27 January 2009

Grace Jones

Grace Jones, live at the Roundhouse
(Photo: Michael Hubbard)

If pop music is the preserve of the young, nobody told Grace Jones. Maybe they were too scared to.

Showcasing Hurricane, her first studio album in nearly 20 years, Andy Warhol’s muse began a three-night residency at the Roundhouse with expectations whetted by 2008’s comeback appearance at Massive Attack‘s Meltdown.

Yet however high those expectations were, Grace Jones met them, played with them as a cat would with a mouse, and triumphantly trumped them.

The set began late; Grace, naturally, would begin when she saw fit. It was worth the wait. When the shrouding purple curtain hanging from the lighting gantry dramatically fell, there she was, revealed high above the stage on an industrial lift, surveying her audience like a panther choosing its prey. As entrances go, this was dramatic.

As the lift lowered her she settled in to the groove of Nightclubbing, one of a selection of back catalogue gems with which her new album’s material was spliced. Between songs she’d leave the stage, talking as she changed costumes, accessories and personas, each hat proving more outlandish than the last, each working with the superb lighting to create visual moments that would imprint on brains. Taut thighs were on display throughout. She’s reputedly 60 years old; safe to say she looks like a woman half that age.

First and foremost this was a performance, part runway fashion show and part theatre, but that’s to take nothing away from the music. She opens This Is with the line “This is my voice, my weapon of choice,” and reminds the gathered throng that her voice is as much of an asset as her extra-terrestrial looks. The Hurricane material is arguably her strongest yet; Sunset Sunrise, one of the nine tracks that make up the record, was written by her son, who’d earlier showed up as the support act.

Stage props included a pair of cymbals for Love You To Life, a pole to twirl seductively around and a giant wind machine. This was no mere fan; Grace Jones doesn’t do half measures. We’re talking of a device of aircraft engine proportions that billowed attire about the sometime Bond villain’s slender, toned frame.

Three of Hurricane’s strongest tracks, Well Well Well, Williams’ Blood and Devil In My Life – a track that plays like her orchestral crescendo of an answer to Björk‘s Play Dead scored by Massive Attack – were followed by Pull Up To The Bumper. Everybody in the place was dancing.

Further visual feats followed. A single green laser beam bolted down from on high to the latest stylishly shaped bowler hat on her head; this one refracted the light, making her head appear as a focal source of energy as she moved the light around at will. It was a simple but brilliant moment.

So dominant is she on stage that there was little to say about her backing band; her two female backing vocalists were ushered into a corner and spent most of the evening scarcely lit.

Anyone else with an ego this big would surely come unstuck, but when she gyrated a hoola hoop for fully five minutes while singing Slave To The Rhythm, sparkling in a carnevale mask, there was no doubt that this singular character is still at the peak of her game.

All that remained was the new album’s title track, featuring the wind machine, a chap with a handheld spotlight and streamers, Grace in a billowing cape as she fought the man-made storm all about her. And then this most original of performers was done. Spectacular, from first to last; there’s nobody quite like her.

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