Some artists crowd-surf; Grace Jones prefers to conduct a regal tour. During a hyper-extended edition of ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, the Jamaican icon promptly downs a glass of red wine before boarding the shoulders of a slightly flummoxed security guard – and commands him to ferry her around the entire front stalls of the Royal Festival Hall. Once the impromptu meet-and-greet has taken her back to the stage, Jones plants a grateful kiss on her noble steed’s head before beckoning in search of a drink top-up. Seconds later, a refilled glass appears.
This should serve as a mere taster of the delicious sense of chaos that Grace Jones brings to London’s Southbank Centre by way of closing the Meltdown Festival she’s curated, blending high-camp theatricality with a continual smashing of the fourth wall. While so many high-production pop shows now are focused on making proceedings seem so utterly effortless, their star gliding around like an otherworldly comet while the messy machine running the show stays firmly hidden away, Jones wants us to know that she’s busting her ass here, complete with its trademark Keith Haring body-paint.
“Ba-boom, ba-boom!” she exclaims from backstage, mimicking her racing heartbeat as a team of stage-hands wrestle with one of 11 costume changes. Later, she gives up hiding altogether, instead opting to change into a procession of unwieldy hats in full view of the audience, surrounded by a bemused stage crew and their hastily aimed torches.
Tonight’s often jaw-dropping show visits some of her most iconic hits. For the Parisian sleaze of ‘I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)’ she tangoes her way around a live accordion player, while the Pretenders song she’s turned into a personal signature, ‘Private Life’ is performed from the floor as Jones writhes in the glittery get-up of a “wicked witch”.
And yet, this is far from a ‘Greatest Hits’ lap of honour – Jones’ opening song is the trip-hop-meets-reggae track ‘This Is’ while the heavily autobiographical ‘Williams Blood’ (both from 2008’s ‘Hurricane’) serve as slightly more left-field choices. Elsewhere, she informs her rapt audience that there’s a brand new “African hybrid” record on the way, and treats them to an intensely smouldering preview of that album’s ‘Sunshine in Wartime’. There are also classics galore, of course – during ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ Jones gives an outing to her beloved hula-hoop, and turns herself into a human disco ball (with the help of a mirrored bowler hat) during Roxy Music cover ‘Love is the Drug’.
By the end, she’s reluctant to leave – ”they’re pulling the plug, but I can sing acapella” she announces mischievously. As a pair of pleading Southbank staff helplessly look on, she closes with a lone rendition of ‘La Vie En Rose’ (originally by Édith Piaf) with lit cigarette in hand, before nonchalantly ambling off stage mere seconds before she’s shut down. It’s Grace Jones’ world, and we’re just living in it.
Grace Jones played:
‘I’ve Done It Again’
‘My Jamaican Guy’
‘Sunshine in Wartime’
‘I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)’
‘Love is the Drug’
‘Pull Up To The Bumper’
‘Slave to the Rhythm’
‘La Vie En Rose’