Grace Jones has set the scene for what is yet to come for this year’s Adelaide Festival .
It’s been thirty six years since Ms Jones last performed in Adelaide, despite several trips to the East coast, but her hit heavy and theatrical performance on Wednesday night, was well worth the wait. With the world sadly stripped of Bowie, Jackson, Prince we have lost some of our most influential and ground breaking artists in the past few years. All of those artists emerged in a time where their artistic vision was less stage managed by focus groups and accountants and their development was allowed to take a more organic course. These artists had very ground breaking music, but also each presented themselves in striking ways visually as a well. From sartorial style, to video performance and innovative staging, their ground breaking visual presence forever intertwined with their unique original music output.
Grace Jones was born in Jamaica, raised in New York, with her remarkable face and figure she started modelling in her teens becoming one of the first ‘super models’ and in 1977 started making disco records, that cemented her position as one of the darlings of the New York scene. But by 1980 she had embraced reggae, new wave and post-punk and funk and her style had become striking and confronting. Musically she was working with the legendary Sly & Robbie and visually Jean-Paul Goude was creating images and videos that made Jones seem other worldly, androgynous, sexy and robotic all at once. Certainly when she was last I Adelaide nobody had ever seen anything quite like that performance. Even Bowie in concert had a traditional band with dancers and unique lighting. Jones stage was like a theatrical set with her musicians all hidden from sight so the soul focus was on the suit wearing and nipple breast plate Goddess with the amazing voice and killer smile. Those records still sound incredible three decades on, a favourite being the Trevor Horn produced Slave To The Rhythm album, who was riding high on the success of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and there is a story that originally Slave was to be the follow up to Frankie’s epic Pleasurdome record. The concept album was rejigged to make a stunning autobiographic story of Grace Jones. There is a fantastic quote used in the narration of that record that goes “Edith Piaf used to say, Use your faults, Use your defects, then you are going to be a star, Ladies and Gentle Miss Grace Jones.”.
So after making Adelaide wait for over three and a half decades, it was no surprises that the eager crowd wait for 45 minutes past the scheduled start time, Ms Jones arrives on stage and makes a bold entrance to the welcoming crowd. Entering the stage unrecognisable behind a golden mask, but with her familiar and notorious voice, Jones starts the show to collective applause with Nightclubbing written by David Bowie and Iggy Pop for Pop’s 1977 album The Idiot, it was quite a surprise that Jones covered it (and named her album after it) only three years after the original came out. The Jones version is slow, atmospheric and hypnotic.
Beside the golden skull mask, 69 year old Grace is wearing nothing but a g-string, a corset and Keith Harring style body paint, her naked breasts covered in white crosses of paint. While may sound like an outrageous start to a Festival, it is sexy without being lascivious or crude.
The show takes the audience through an undulating journey from reggae, soul, including originals and covers. The set was all crowd favourites were her classics like I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango), all turning up early in her set. The Pretenders Private Life and The Normal’s Warm Leatherette are stunning.
Jones put her signature sound across the cover of La vie en rose and whilst not her best performance for the evening was well loved by the audience singing along.
Jones used the show to perform a new, yet-to-be-released track, Shenanigans, that was particularly cheeky through lyrics and included a male dancer, covered in body paint similar to Grace’s own and gyrating on a platform with pole.
Jones’ fashion history influences a costume change for each song, keeping each song with a fresh look. Her cheeky humour shined throughout the show, at one point even chastising her assistant for the incorrect costume change and calling her on stage for a spanking all the while finding it wickedly funny and laughing.
From supermodel to singer to actor, Jones has a penchant for theatrics and the dramatic, and this is evident throughout Jones’ performance. Dancing, writhing, crawling and riding a security guards shoulders round the front of the stage. Roxy Music’s Love Is The Drug is epic and her anthemic Pull Up To The Bumper has the large crowd on their feet. Perhaps most impressively tonight Grace sings Slave To The Rhythm while hula hooping for an entire song. Impressive huh? Did we mention that Slave went for an extended ten or more minutes long? And before she was done, continued to spin that hoop while introducing her band – Jones’ boundless energy is captivating.
Grace Jones is a true iconic and unique performer.
As the opening show for Adelaide Festival, expectations have been set for a high calibre and dynamic festival.
Review by Ilona Schultz and Ian Bell