Fully half of the rivetingly strange diva Grace Jones' show at the Hammerstein Ballroom last night in New York City -- one of only two U.S. stops on her world tour, the first last Sunday in L.A. -- she spent offstage, finishing her songs, being changed from one stupendous Eiko Ishioka costume to another and talking over her body mic to her worshipful audience like the disembodied, all-powerful voice of Oz. "Believe me, it's my vanity why I'm still here," came The Voice, which has gotten wonderfully craggier and draggier over the years. "I can't self-destruct because I'm vain!"
But she shared her outsize vanity like a gift with the nearly all-gay crowd that mobbed the floor, shrieking "Work!" at her every Harlem-runway eye-pop, neck jerk or futureshock-feline arm-pose. For "La Vie en Rose," she wore a red silk structure whose multi-directional jaggedness, and even its massive scale, evoked Frank Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim, then, toward the end, twirled repeatedly to reveal near-nakedness except for the G-string that held it all together. (Her bumper, along with her entire, 61-year-old body and iconic face, looked amazing, by the way.) For "My Jamaican Guy," she wore a sort of King Tut headdress-minidress combo in the colors and stripes of the Jamaican flag. For the title song from her newest, darkly techno album, Hurricane, she stood in profile in front of a giant wind-smoke-light machine wearing a sort of toque with a huge Deco ram's horn attached to it and a black silk cape that billowed twenty feet behind her, voguing with the masturbatory grandeur of a drag queen home alone in front of a cracked mirror.
She made the crowd approach a screeching frenzy before she came back for her encores, "Pull Up to My Bumper," where she demanded that the throng sing the lead line over and over, and "Slave to the Rhythm," during which she'd imperiously clang a massive pair of cymbals over her head. Moments before, she'd gleefully chatted about her longtime struggles with corporate clones and hacks. "It seems like no one in the business understands me anymore," she purred, loving the sound of her own, hugely-miked voice. "I carried on in the studio, and I walked out -- like a diva should." And then, she did just that.