July 30th, 2009 |

“Are you ready for Grace?” a friendly man unexpectedly asked our drunken picnicking group en route to the Hollywood Bowl. Personal theological questionings aside, the truthful answer for this concert was no. Miss Jones did put out three stellar disco albums and a few decent ’80s offerings—even playing a supporting role in Conan the Destroyer, which is a terrible movie but a good introduction to Jones’ androgynous towering looks and off-beat style. But she’s been virtually M.I.A. for nearly two decades, making one wonder if her cultish legacy hadn’t tarnished to the point that of Montreal should’ve received top billing. (Perhaps your trusted reviewer betrays his age with this admission.) Speaking of—Kevin Barnes and company did a serviceable job bringing their brand of buoyant pop to the Bowl, hitting their stride with songs from Skeletal Lamping when the daylight faded, though sitting two rows from Section Z makes it hard to appreciate the succession of fauns, ninjas, and miscellaneous animal masks parading up and down the stage. A smaller venue like the Palladium suits them better. When one of the tiger-masked men rushed out to Henry Rollins during his emceeing introduction, the fear of a Black Flag-style beat down was palpable in even the cheapest seats, however. Luckily that didn’t occur because later that same guy took off his tiger mask and proposed to keyboardist Dottie Alexander. How will of Montreal top themselves next? Fast forward twenty minutes—the lights went dark, the applause roared, and there she was. Twenty years since an L.A. performance, and absolutely no rust on Grace Jones. She started with a new song called “This is Life,” with a propulsive Caribbean beat that set the tone for the rest of her night. It was abundantly clear why she was headlining—at 61, she was and is still like a one- woman of Montreal writ large. She had outlandish costume changes for every song and that seductive contralto voice possessed us all. Out-there songs like “Strange” commanded the Bowl. She slipped into disco, ska, reggae and art-rock just as easily as changing outfits. Most entertaining was when she ran off the stage to change, freely talking to the audience in her distinctive accent about living in Paris, getting curves later in life and Sting writing songs for her. Her disembodied voice gave the strange but distinct impression that the Bowl itself was talking to us. That might be the best compliment one can give—when a performer can keep an audience in rapt attention while putting on gigantic day-glow leggings off stage, you got yourself an evening worth remembering. It ultimately didn’t matter if we were ready for her—how could you be, really?—because Grace was ready for us.

—Greg Garabedian