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Live review: Grace Jones, Of Montreal and Dengue Fever at KCRW's World Festival at the Hollywood Bowl

July 27, 2009 |  3:44 pm

Gracejones450 At her electrifying Hollywood Bowl show on Sunday night, Grace Jones had so many lavish costumes it would've made the late Hollywood designer Edith Head swallow her sewing kit in astonishment. One of Jones’ most daring – and there were many gasp-inducing get-ups – was a giant, bright-red contraption for her sumptuous performance of “La Vie En Rose.” Part exploding star, part spiky rose, when Jones, 61, spun around slowly, it revealed her naked, well-greased-and-muscled backside. Je t’aime, scandalous exposure!

Playing an 11-song set, including her incisive “Corporate Cannibal” video, the diva of disco showcased her inimitable blend of physical prowess, art-rock theatrics turned up to operatic proportions and freestyle, kitchen-table chatter. Near the end of each song, Jones would disappear backstage to change, but she kept her mic on, sighing luxuriously between elliptical setups for the next number or discussing anything else that captured her attention, such as the night’s muggy heat, friend Michael Jackson (“We had a similar family”) or her son, who was playing in the nine-piece band onstage.

The Jamaica-born model informed the crowd that her son was half-French, but she refrained from identifying him directly. “He could be the one with blond hair and blue eyes, and you wouldn’t bloody know it,” she said, tittering.

Jones loves nothing more than a good riddle – of race, gender, nationality or any other identifying category that can have its limits, self-imposed or otherwise. Be whoever you want to be in the moment, she seems to say. Dress up for the opener, “This Is Life,” as a tribal zebra with an icy platinum mane perfect for headbanging, much to the roaring delight of the crowd, a mix of swanky industry types and WeHo partyers dancing in the cheap seats.

In “My Jamaican Guy,” she donned a red, green, yellow and black outfit that was nothing more than a shredded skirt and a few conveniently placed strips of fabric. Gwen Stefani, do you have your L.A.M.B. designers making copies of that naughty piece right now?

The tigress of downtown disco recently released an album, “Hurricane,” available online and by import only (for now). And although her famous contralto range has narrowed, she’s milking the lower half for all its smoldering power. Sounding like a satiated safari beast picking bones out of her teeth, her “Corporate Cannibal” video, in which her physique is manipulated to look like black, liquid sculpture, features some of her best vocals and chilliest lyrics in years. “Your meat is sweet to me,” she purrs as a bloodthirsty CEO.

The one undeniable flaw in Jones’ set may have been her curious neglect of the catwalk that cuts through the box seats. Has there ever been a performer at the Bowl who could have vamped on that little belt of stage better than Ms. Jones?

No matter. It was utilized by Of Montreal’s chaotic crew, dressed like dream animals from a long-lost Richard Scarry book – cat masks with nude leotards, great winged creatures in red and yellow, not to mention a smoke-gun-wielding priest figure and two men in one-legged florescent leotards who rumbled in a butter-knife fight.

Kevin Barnes, the Georges Bataille-reading, polyamorous frontman, turned in a focused performance with an occasional feisty edge. Though the Athens, Ga., band is a keen, aesthetic fit with Jones, its circus-like hysterics and verbose lyrics didn’t seem to capture the audience, who seemed mostly unfamiliar with the band and impatient for the main act.

But a few touches helped command attention – Janelle Monae, a little sister in style to Jones, joined Of Montreal for a faithful rendition of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” She first walked onstage in a black suit and saddle shoes for “Elegant Caste,” leading a white pug on a leash. Barnes fluttered around her, with his own black pug and white knee-high boots, imbuing the song’s come-on lyrics with the arch impeccability of a T.S. Eliot poem.

For all the high-minded conceptualism, good old-fashioned romance was also in the air. One of Of Montreal’s performance artists, Nick Gould, proposed to keyboardist Dottie Alexander. She said yes and spent the next song wiping away tears.

Opening act Dengue Fever, one of Los Angeles’ finest, as introduced by host Henry Rollins, led the crowd out of their picnic reveries to a dark, smoky club in Cambodia. Interlacing lead singer Chhom Nimol’s ornate vocal lines with Ethiopian jazz and psychedelic force, they set the tone for a night of adventure.

-- Margaret Wappler

Photo credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times

From Sunday's paper: Grace Jones in a flash