To stand before Grace Jones’s painted body, bare breasts and all, is like having an audience with Hera in the Olympian throne room. Jones is 67-years old, and at the peak of her power. She doesn’t so much sing as perform rites set to song, and her maniacal imperiousness is catnip for artfags. Although her show at the Fox took place on the Saturday before the Folsom Street Fair, it seemed possible that the Powerhouse and the Eagle were full of tumbleweeds, because their target demo had better plans. People turned out, and they were looking mighty spiffy.
Opening her set with her version of Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing,” Jones wore white body paint, and a gold skull mask with cormorant feathers poking up in all directions. The skull has a seismogram for a mouth. She wore a black tunic, and a silver spiky helmet, and at one point a blond wig that made her look like Janice from the Muppets. Between songs, as she changes costumes off-stage, she leaves her mic on, so you can hear her wriggling into or out of this or that, issuing pronouncements (“I’m tryna take off something I would rather keep on,” “Fucking amazing!”) that could be edicts from a demigoddess or the rantings of a deranged woman; it is hard to tell.
“I got some more energy. I’ll kill y’all!” she said at one point. One almost expected lightning bolts to burst from her fingers, electrocuting audience members at random as she cackled, “Ya, mon! Ya, mon!” No doubt many people would have jockeyed to be the one who got to die. Jones seemed genuinely glad to be in Oakland, intoning, “Oakland! California! America!” No mention was made of her death scene in A View to a Kill, when her character, May Day, expires in a mineshaft under the Hayward Fault in spite of possessing superhuman strength.
Although she eschewed her phenomenal 1978 debut record, Portfolio — no “La Vie en Rose” or “I Need a Man” here — she played her biggest hits: “Feel Up” (for which she straddled a bass drum), “Nipple to the Bottle” (the guitars for which sounded Stevie Wonder-esque, although her wig was more George Clinton), “Pull Up to the Bumper,” and the defining “Slave to the Rhythm.” During “Pull Up to the Bumper,” her dancers came out in matching body paint, gyrating like a cross between the “Walk Like an Egyptian” dance and Michel Gondry’s video for Daft Punk’s “Around the World.” Her wig for that number looked like a nun’s cornette — or more like something Nicki Minaj would wear if she entered an old-school convent.
As she famously did for Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, and many times since, she hula-hooped through the entirety of “Slave to the Rhythm,” introducing her band at a conspicuously laconic pace and while wearing a winged, gray-black headpiece like a monstrous butterfly trapped in a vacuum cleaner bag. And for the encore, “Hurricane,” she engaged in a sonic duel with the smoke machine.
Apart from her own music, the set was studded with covers. Selecting other people’s music is a delicate art, and Grace Jones has always chosen wisely, from “Nightclubbing” to the Pretenders’ “Private Life,” and landing on Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug.” For that one, she stood under a beam of light like a spelunker from outer space. (And she repeated a verse, although whether by design is not really for us mortals to question.) She did not do Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns”; again, nothing from Portfolio.
By now, everyone’s seen the leaked rider, which stipulates that her dressing room shall be equipped with 12 bottles of wine and champagne, a makeup mirror with opaque white bulbs, two sashimi and sushi platters for eight, and two dozen Findeclare or Colchester oysters on ice, unopened because “Grace does her own shucking.”
It is not hard to imagine her taking a sensuous thrill from the consumption of oysters. Even from the back of the house, you can see Grace Jones’ glittering teeth, lined in black lipstick, primed for the act of devouring. She is a shimmering apparition, a tigress. I have stood before her splendor, and now I am fatigued.