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Grace Jones With Chvrches At The Hollywood Bowl, Sunday September 25th 2022

Grace Jones
Grace Jones

Local radio KCRW had concocted a night of music at the Hollywood Bowl, and although I didn’t exactly understand why they had picked the Scottish band Chvrches to open for legendary Grace Jones, the evening turned out to be a great one.

Belgian duo Charlotte Aldigéry and Bolis Pupul opened the night for a short set of stripped-down electro-pop, which sounded quite strange and inventive. It was probably a bit too artsy and clever for a Sunday night out, but Charlotte had some real stage presence.

I had already seen Chvrches at the pre-pandemic Intersect festival in Las Vegas, so I knew they were capable to put on an arena-type show, and I will admit that front girl Lauren Mayberry worked out the crowd like a tiny queen. Chvrches demonstrated that they could play a high-energy show, and for an hour, Mayberry ran back and forth from right to left, jumping and twirling with free abandon while letting her youthful helium-like vocals lead her spinning dance. Live, Chvrches is pretty much Lauren Mayberry, as the rest of the band stayed in the shadows for the entire set, and if the pop hooks were present, the landscapes were ethereal synth-guitar delivered with ferocious energy reinforced by the beautiful Bowl lighting. Mayberry seemed to be surprised to find herself on the stage of the mythical Hollywood Bowl: ”The first time we played in LA, we played at the Echo, and now this!” she exclaimed after a few songs.
She first wore a sporty but fancy leotard (in honor of Grace Jones) but, mid-show, she changed into more casual jean shorts and a white shirt reading “Final Girl.” For the last songs, she even reappeared covered in blood (fake of course), her arms scarlet red, and her face smeared with blood as if she was auditioning for the next Halloween movie. Far from looking afraid, she looked fierce and undefeated, as if she had cut the throats of her demons. Still, the bloody aesthetic could have been surprising for someone who didn’t know anything about their new album which embraces a horror movie vibe – they came on stage at the sound of the theme from “Nightmare on Elm Street” – which fits very well the 80s goth/new wave sound of the album.
The new material is packed with intense imagery and the lyrics are reminiscent of an ’80s-era horror film: “These violent delights/Keep creeping into my nights,” she sang during “Violent Delights”… ”That was the first time I knew they were out for blood/And they would have your guts,” she sang during “How Not to Drown,” a song featuring no less than the Cure’s Robert Smith on the album. She even called herself “Final Girl” (and wore the shirt) as if she was the last survivor of a horror movie. However, in the middle of this upbeat and often explosive sound of synth waves and soaring vocals, the slasher movie as a possible metaphor for the record industry escaped me. “Screen violence” is a product of several things: the origin of the band (they were born on the internet), the inappropriate and misogynist messages received on social networks (Lauren wrote an article for the Guardian about it back in 2013, so this had a long gestation) and the extreme isolation due to two pandemic years. From my far-away seat – I had a good seat, but the Hollywood Bowl is damn big – any deep meaning was lost in Lauren’s elfin-like voice and the club-like ambiance created around the sound.
Whether Chvrches was a good opener for Grace Jones is very debatable. A lot of people around me, who were visibly here for the amazing Grace, were constantly talking during Chvrches’ set. This happens a lot at these big shows, but this still says a lot. I am not saying Lauren lacked charisma, she pushed herself vocally while occupying the stage with grace and an enjoyable lightness and but who can honestly open for an icon like Grace Jones?

Setlist
He Said She Said
Forever
Leave a Trace
California
Violent Delights
Bury It
Miracle
How Not to Drown
Final Girl
Recover
Never Say Die
Asking for a Friend
The Mother We Share
Clearest Blue

The last and unique time I saw Grace Jones (at the FYF fest, a few years ago), James Murphy, who was following on the same stage with his band LCD Soundsystem, told us something like: “If you were not here for Grace Jones, you fucked up.” No offense to the fans of Chvrches, but I would bet that most people who had bought a ticket for the night had done it because of the American-Jamaican icon.
Saying that someone is an icon has become a cliché, but there’s nothing cliché about Grace Jones, she is so unique, so original that she is the inspiration for a myriad of current pop stars. However, she has often been imitated but was never equaled. At 74 – for god’s sake, how does she still do it? – she still commands the stage with an imposing and androgynous voice and she still looks like this 6-feet fashion figure she has always been, her long legs on high heels, her silhouette elongated with a tall hat, her body not even slightly altered by age.
The set was short, just ten songs, mostly drawing from her 1980-85 catalog, and starting with a funky-reggae-ish version of Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing,” performed with a tall hat at the top of stairs, that provided a daring stage extension, especially with the shoes she was wearing… At one point she screamed for help in a joking manner. “Help! how many times I have to say!”
Each song was performed with a larger-than-life dimension and a wardrobe change, and between songs, Grace disappeared backstage to put on a new outfit or accessory, but she was still talking, laughing, and swearing, although most of her banter ended being an indecipherable murmur. But even a Grace Jones’s out-of-breath laugh is worth the money.
As her body was covered with white taped motifs, so that she looked like a Keith Haring painting, a Grace Jones show is as musical as it is visual. For the Pretenders’ “Private Life” – which didn’t sound much like the original – she was crawling like a hunting felid creature, hiding behind a Fauve glittering veil. She reappeared with her head covered with chainmail while hitting cymbals very hard during “Demolition Man.” Next, she had a Jamaican flag-striped turban for “My Jamaican Guy,” that she once again performed at the top of the stairs, often scissor-kicking her legs in the air. At this point, the entire Hollywood Bowl was standing and dancing. She surprised us with a crinoline white skirt and elegant black hat for a medley of “Williams Blood” and a soaring “Amazing Grace,” which was her version of “going to church.” She made the entire venue sing along a few times, with the obliged glass of wine pause, followed by a frantic “Love is the Drug,” plunging the entire Bowl in the dark while the light of a disco ball was reflecting on her bowler hat. She justified the juxtaposition of the songs with a ”without sin you can’t be saved!” She made people from the front rows get up on stage for a dance party during “Pull Up to The Bumper,” and at this instant, everyone was probably raging they could not afford a seat in the pool. Dancing on stage with Grace Jones, how many people can say that? Everyone should have been exhausted after that, but she performs her last song standing on a platform and hula-hooping for what seems to be an extended version of “Slave to the Rhythm.”
A Grace Jones show is so colorful and so full of life that the ’80s legend remains unclassifiable in the history of music. Her colossal stage presence is timeless and her ability to engage the crowd is effortless. Even at 74, she keeps demonstrating that she was born to perform while her material occupies a unique musical space between reggae, disco, post-punk, art pop, and new wave, beautifully served by a large band that included her unique son, Paulo Goude. At the end of the night, there was no doubt about who was the final girl.

Setlist
Nightclubbing (Iggy Pop cover)
This Is
Private Life (Pretenders cover)
Demolition Man
My Jamaican Guy
Williams Blood
Amazing Grace (John Newton cover)
Love Is the Drug (Roxy Music cover)
Pull Up to The Bumper
Slave to the Rhythm

1 Comment

  1. Steve-o Dad on September 29, 2022 at 10:30 pm

    Demolition Man is a Police cover. Like Roxy’s Love is the Drug, she puts her own spin on it.

    Always thought Private Life was one of her rare covers that did stay close to the original.

    No mention of Janelle Monae appearance for PUTTB?

    Yeah, I had to be told that was who it was…

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