It’d be hard to think of a better place in Germany than Cologne for an evening with Grace Jones, if you know what I mean. If you don’t know what I mean: Cologne hosts the largest Christopher Street Parade in Europe and boasts a sizeable gay community. That is to say that the male-to-female ratio in the audience was similar to a heavy metal concert, but with far better grooming. The rest were a mixed-up jumble that seemed to defy traditional categorization. In other words: the crowd was almost like a reflection of Grace Jones herself.
The performance took place on the eve of her 68th birthday, and she appeared on stage in terrific form. She’s still extremely athletic and powerfully fit, which fact was underlined and highlighted by a super-tight body suit that made her appear nearly naked. She augmented this look with various bold costumes and flamboyant visual accoutrements: there were crowns, scarves and huge cubist head extensions.
The extravaganza began with “Nightclubbing”. After about five seconds it became clear that we were in for a reggae show. But this was no ordinary reggae show; it was futuristic and abstract with a flair that was all her own. She expressed this plainly between songs: “We come from Jamaica, we have reggae.” Wise words from a senior witch.
Throughout the experience her performance felt like a musical. I was reminded of the The Lion King; there were painted dancers, flag wavers and even a tribal pole that was later used for dancing or as Lilli Marleen’s lantern during “La Vie En Rose”. For that song, Jones wore a big red scarf that seemed to flow like blood. It was frightening. But truth be told, I’ve always been a bit afraid of Grace Jones and her larger-than-life personality. Viewed from up close, she’s an intense stage performer with an expressive presence. Her voice is strong and majestic, but it also includes certain imperfections that only add to her seductive allure.
It’s a credit to Miss Jones’ timelessness that her performance never felt too nostalgic. Instead, it was a cool and crowd-pleasing modern delivery of the same groove that’s carried her music since the beginning. She played all the hits: “Private Life”, “My Jamaican Guy”, “I’ve Seen That Face Before” and “Pull Up To The Bumper” were all jammed out with a phenomenal intensity. She finished her compact 90-minute set with “Slave To The Rhythm”. And to top it all off she returned for an animated encore performance of “Hurricane”. It was a powerful statement that had her clutching the on stage like a ship mast in a storm. With wind and fog blowing around, she was quite literally inside of her own personal emotional hurricane.
And that’s the domain of the true diva: To act out extreme emotion in a way that the rest of us cannot show so easily. It’s catharsis through pure ferocity of personality.
Published May 19, 2016.