September 23, 2022
Photos by Tyler King
Grace Jones needs no introduction. An icon not just in the music world, Jones is almost as well-known as being a model, working with the likes of Yves St. Laurent, Kenza Takada, and rubbing shoulders with Giorgio Armani and the late Karl Lagerfeld. Hell, if she hadn’t entered the world of music, she would arguably still be recognized as one of the most striking models of all time.
But no. She just had to go ahead and knock it out of the park with album after album of innovative funk-infused new wave music in the 1980s, and that’s what the sold out crowd at Oakland’s Fox Theater was there to celebrate. The stage curtains had remained closed ever since doors had opened, so nobody knew what to expect as the lights dimmed. The curtains parted. And there, atop a staircase situated in the center of the stage, stood Grace Jones. Situated around the rest of the stage was her backing band, consisting of six musicians and two backing vocalists, but I would be lying if I said that they were the main focus of my attention. All eyes in the entire Fox Theater were on Jones as the band began playing her cover of Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” to a rapturous applause. Wearing a tall hat and a black buttoned blazer, her outfit continued the androgynous and gender-bending look that she had made famous in the 1980s.
It has to be stated just how fantastic Grace Jones still sounds. Her voice is just as strong and commanding as it ever was, taking full command on the song “This Is.” “This is my voice! My weapon of choice!” she declared, as lights shone up underneath and illuminated her fully. It also has to be stated just how fantastic Grace Jones still looks. At the age of 74, her cheekbones should still be registered weapons. Her role as not just a musical icon, but also a visual icon, seems to have never been lost on her. Throughout the entire show, she went through various wardrobe changes between every song, the audience never knowing what she was going to come onstage wearing next.
Looking at the setlist, one might complain that she only performed ten songs (eleven if you include when she led the audience in a sing-along of “Amazing Grace”). And trust me, I completely understand that complaint. But if you were there, you know that Grace and her band pour everything they have into these performances, stretching almost each song out into nearly 10-minute long versions. The funny thing is that I didn’t even notice that she had played for two hours until after the show was over. But she had me, and the rest of the audience, enraptured in her performance, my attention solely on the show and not about what time it was. If you ask me, that’s the sign of a great performance.
Despite the locked-in musicianship of everyone onstage, there was still a feeling of spontaneity. During “Demolition Man,” Grace was flanked by two crash cymbals set up on either side of her, and as she struck the left one in time with the beat, it fell over. Grace seemed to take out any frustration caused by the incident by beating the right one with both hands, the audience cheering her on the entire time, until that cymbal also fell over. She threw her drumsticks over her shoulders and walked offstage for another wardrobe change.
Regardless of what she wore, whether it was just a black corset for “Pull Up To The Bumper,” a Jamaican cape for “My Jamaican Guy,” or a reflective hat for “Love Is The Drug,” Grace’s body was adorned with white body paint, not unlike the body paint that she so frequently wore in the 1980s that had been applied by the late Keith Haring. Whether a tribute to him, or possibly a reference to her role in the film Vamp, it was a striking look that lasted throughout the entire evening.
Following nearly two hours of fantastic performances of iconic songs, Grace came walked back onstage following a short encore break. How was she going to top what had come before? What could she possibly have up her sleeves? Two words: hula hoop. That’s right. For the entirety of the final song, “Slave To The Rhythm,” Grace hula hooped. And she didn’t just hula hoop: she didn’t miss a single beat or sing a single note out of place. When I tell you that the crowd ate this up, I am doing a disservice to the thrall that Grace put the entire audience in. For over ten minutes, Grace not just sang, but also introduced her entire band, while hula hooping. I’ve seen shows where a band has a certain gimmick for a song or two, but let me tell you that I’ve never seen anything as impressive as this. Whether she plays ten songs, twenty songs, five songs, or two songs, you need to go see Grace Jones.
Opening the evening was San Francisco drag icon Juanita MORE! Juanita stood silent behind a DJ deck for the first 90 minutes of the evening, playing club-friendly versions of classics like “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer, as well as more contemporary songs. Donning a large pink hat and a purse decorated to look like a taco, Juanita’s entire energy fit in perfectly with the vibe of the evening.