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Pop Music Review

This is 61? Jones electrifies Bowl

July 28, 2009|Margaret Wappler

At her electrifying Hollywood Bowl show Sunday night, Grace Jones had so many lavish costumes, it would've made the late Hollywood designer Edith Head swallow her sewing kit in astonishment. One of Jones' most daring -- and there were many gasp-inducing get-ups -- was a giant, bright-red contraption for her sumptuous performance of "La Vie en Rose." Part exploding star, part spiky rose, when Jones, 61, spun around slowly, it revealed her naked, well-greased-and-muscled backside. Je t'aime, scandalous exposure!

Playing an 11-song set, including her incisive "Corporate Cannibal" video, the diva of disco showcased her inimitable blend of physical prowess, art-rock theatrics cranked to operatic proportions and freestyle chatter. Near the end of each song, Jones would disappear backstage to change, but she kept her mike on, sighing luxuriously between setups for the next number or discussing anything else that captured her attention, such as the night's heat, friend Michael Jackson ("We had a similar family") or her son, who was playing in the nine-piece band onstage.

The Jamaica-born model informed the crowd that her son was half-French, but she refrained from identifying him directly. "He could be the one with blond hair and blue eyes, and you wouldn't bloody know it," she said, tittering.

Jones loves nothing more than a good riddle -- of race, gender, nationality or any other identifying category that can have its limits, self-imposed or otherwise. Be whoever you want to be in the moment, she seems to say. Dress up for the opener, "This Is Life," as a tribal zebra with a platinum mane for headbanging, much to the delight of the crowd, a mix of industry types and WeHo partyers dancing in the cheap seats.

The tigress of downtown disco recently released an album, "Hurricane," available online. And although her contralto range has narrowed, she's milking the lower half for all its smoldering power. Sounding like a satiated safari beast picking bones out of her teeth, her "Corporate Cannibal" video -- in which her physique is manipulated to look like black, liquid sculpture -- features some of her best vocals and chilliest lyrics in years. "Your meat is sweet to me," she purrs as a bloodthirsty CEO.

The one undeniable flaw in Jones' set may have been her curious neglect of the catwalk that cuts through the box seats. Has there ever been a performer at the Bowl who could have vamped on that belt of stage better than Ms. Jones?

No matter. It was utilized by Of Montreal's chaotic crew, dressed like dream animals from a Richard Scarry book -- cat masks with nude leotards, great winged creatures in red and yellow, and a smoke-gun-wielding priest figure.

Kevin Barnes, the Georges Bataille-reading, polyamorous frontman, turned in a focused performance with a feisty edge. Though the Athens, Ga., band is an aesthetic fit with Jones, its circus-like hysterics and verbose lyrics didn't capture audience members, who seemed unfamiliar with the band.

But a few touches helped -- Janelle Monae, a little sister in style to Jones, joined Of Montreal for a faithful rendition of David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream." She first walked onstage in a black suit for "For Our Elegant Caste," leading a white pug on a leash. Barnes fluttered around her, with his own black pug and white knee-high boots, imbuing the come-on lyrics with the arch impeccability of a T.S. Eliot poem.

For all the high-minded conceptualism, old-fashioned romance was also in the air. Of Montreal performance artist Nick Gould proposed to keyboardist Dottie Alexander. She said yes and spent the next song wiping away tears.

Opening act Dengue Fever, one of L.A.'s finest, as introduced by host Henry Rollins, led concertgoers out of their picnic reveries to a dark club in Cambodia. Interlacing lead singer Chhom Nimol's ornate vocals with Ethiopian jazz and psychedelic force, they set the tone for a night of adventure.

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margaret.wappler@latimes.com

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