Western Springs was engulfed in its evening by the time Grace Jones took to the stage. A big crowd was waiting for her, perhaps, like me, not quite sure what to expect from the Jamaican born 69 year old who was one of the coolest and most outlandishly stylely disco queens of her time. She kept us waiting for 20 minutes, adding to the anticipation. Then a huge banner of her face was slowly shifted on to stage, the banner let drop, and there she was, in a black and white skeleton catsuit, a black cape, and a gold skull mask, standing in very high heeled shoes.
Just before her show another festival goer told me he’d seen a documentary where she sang mostly sitting down, and he wondered if age might have been catching up with Grace Jones. Well, not on this night. Jones’ voice was strong, and she swayed and kicked and danced with aplomb. I think it took a couple of songs for the crowd to get the measure of her, but by the end of the set they were totally having a ball. As each song came to an end Jones would walk off stage, still singing, and then stroll back on with a costume change.
Jones performed a selection of her hits, like Nightclubbing, My Jamaican Guy, Private Life, Love is the Drug and Warm Leatherette, as well as an unaccompanied couple of verses of Amazing Grace. She finished with a
fantastic version of Pull Up to the Bumper, complete with a near naked male pole dancer, his skin covered in Maori style designs. “He’s one of yours” she said, as the two shared centre stage. On a day of several musical highs, seeing Grace Jones in this form was right near the top.
She wasn’t the last act of the night by any means, and I headed over to the other side of the stadium to see one more. This was Beck, the 47 year old American singer/rapper and multi instrumentalist. Unlike Tash Sultana though, he had a full band with him. I hadn’t seen him live before and, to be honest, wasn’t familiar with his music, but a big audience were clearly very keen to see him.
Beck started with some upbeat, rocky material, which I enjoyed, and then after a couple of songs moved to a more rap/hip hop style. The band was good, the beat was good, but my energy levels were flagging. So I have to put my hand up and say I didn’t stay for the whole set. Four or five songs were enough for me at this stage. I liked Beck’s music although, and this is purely subjective of course, I found his voice a little underwhelming.
And that was the day at Auckland City Limits. It was a good event, with a mix of music designed to appeal to a broad range of tastes, from both local and international artists. At around $190 a ticket, it won’t fit the budget of many, although if you can afford it, it’s value for money for the number of artists on offer. In Western Springs the city has a great venue, and if they can get the mix of acts right, thousands will come again.