July 28, 2009

Everyone compares In Living Color to Chappelle’s Show for the same reductive reason: they both featured talented African-American comedians performing topical sketch comedy to the delight of millions. But more than just the superficial racial parallel,  both transcended merely skewering culture icons to wholly re-contextualizing them. Try listening to “Superfreak” without thinking of “I’m Rick James, bitch,” or Lil Jon without a trip to the doctor’s office, or Prince in a pre-pancake universe. Though it’s 15 years later, the same can be said about In Living Color, and its dated but still relevant ridicule of Vanilla IceSnow, and Grace Jones.

While most targets of satire opt to buck the two-dimensional depictions, Grace Jones does little to contradict the Keenan Ivory image of her as alligator wrestling, glass chewing, shark riding, killing machine. This is a good thing. While it might work in inter-personal relationships, international politics, and episodes of Lost, nuance is the last thing people want from Grace Jones–other than perhaps a sequel to Vamp

At the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night, not only did the 61-year old disco diva ask the crowd, “DO YOU THINK I”M SEXY?” she did it wearing a tentacled S&M, blood-red and black, devil outfit that looked like a cross between Electra and the Edgar Allen Poe story, “Masque of the Red Death.” She did it while singing “La Vie En Rose” in a red rose costume that looked like a puffed Caribbean blowfish–a backless number that revealed her to be practically nude, rocking only a black thong and World Wrestling Federation-thick baby oil. She performed “My Jamaican Guy”* to the delight of the Pinot Grigio and pear salad crowd, clad in a Carmen Miranda hat and strips of tropical-colors as substantive as pear salad.

If you’re looking for setlist specifics, photos, and a more informed opinion within the context of Jones’ catalog,  Randall Roberts’ piece at West Coast Sound and Margaret Wappler’s article for the Times come highly recommended. If you’re looking for discursive discussion on the probability of Jones’ true identity as a dominatrix from the West Indian section of Alpha Centauri, circa 2865, then you’ve come to the right place. Her costume designer, Eiko Ishioka, did the costumes for  Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Fall and the Cirque du Soleil show Varekai, and it’s tempting to consider the possiblity of life with her designing your daily wardrobe. Nothing says first date like a spandex Zebra body suit, with a Trojan headdress, and a orchid corsage for that extra modicum of class.

The Hollywood Bowl is a venue that warrants spectacle to fulfill the expectations and vast verdant space, and for those wondering Who Is Grace Jones?, not only did she give us her phone number, she gave us the first three minutes free on her 1-900 Hotline. With nearly as many costume changes as songs, she not only managed to make T-Pain’s circus seem two-ring, but showed that she’s capable of re-mapping the contours of the pop star stage show at the age of 61. To say nothing of her body, which continues to be as brolic as in Conan The Destroyer days. Jones is frightening in that good way, like The Winchester Mystery House, Scream, or David Hasselhoff.

It’s not easy to make opener, Kevin Barnes, the indie world’s chief freaknik look like a Des Moines milk man, but Jones, she of the trademark tugboat contralto voice defied all logic and reason.  What makes it that much more striking are the rumors that behind the burlesque, she’s the exact opposite: gracious, cool-headed, and polite. If this was all theater, then it was masterfully done. You couldn’t have asked for anything more–other than maybe some raw alligator.

Pity poor Kevin Barnes. Normally, his drama nerd-gone-fabulous schtick succeeds in making even cynics smile. And to an extent he fulfilled his compact on Sunday–giving us an outfit that looked like a soldier in the War of 1812 gone drag, ninjas, Kabuki women wearing Missy Elliot “I Can’t Stand the Rain” costumes,” and a guest spot from Jonelle Monae and her two pugs. To top it off, he added guys in spandex jumpsuits who looked like a cross between Mark Spitz and an exploding guava; a rock-god Buddha, and a dancing man in a tiger mask. Not only that, the guy in the tiger mask proposed to Of Montreal’s keyboardist on stage. She accepted, ostensibly to the chagrin of her parents who will read on the Internet that their daughter is marrying a man who dances in a tiger mask for a living. Then again, I imagine it pays better than journalism.

Essentially, a glam indie-guitar pop band (and one of the best), Of Montreal’s sound is better suited to smaller indoor venues, and no amount of histrionics could alter the reality. The performance was good, even if the setlist unfairly slighted The Sunlandic Twins and Satanic Panic in the Attice, my personal favorites from the Athens quintet. I stand by my earlier opinion that if you were a 17-year old, sexually confused and high on some strong E, the performance would’ve rocked your world. I was entertained–after all, you don’t normally see people walking dogs across the stage of the city’s most storied venue. But Barnes ought to be careful–the calculated idiosyncrasy is starting to look like he’s seen Cats a few too many times.

* Which this blog’s readers may best recognize as the sample source for Uncle L’s “Doin’ It.”

MP3: Grace Jones-“My Jamaican Guy”
MP3: Of Montreal-“Gallery Piece (Jon Brion Remix)”

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