Concert Review: Ebony Bones! at Art Loves Music, December 2

Photo by Ian Witlen
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Ebony Bones!
At the annual Art Loves Music concert at Collins Park, Miami Beach
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Better Than: Yelle's performance at the same event last year.

The Review: 

The Art Positions sub-shot of the official Art Basel Miami Beach, with its avant garde galleries set up in shipping containers, has been moved this year from its old home on the beach at Collins Park. There's still a bar and grill there, and plenty of spots to lounge amid an involved, maze-like installation. But the lack of actual art business happening sapped some of the usual pre-concert energy out of last night's edition of the annual free Art Loves Music concert on the sand. Luckily the headliner the English soap-opera-actress-turned singing weirdo Ebony Bones!, kicked things back up and off into outer space. 

Bones! was previously more or less unknown locally -- her debut album has yet to get an official release or real publicity push in this country. Still, she managed to ensnare a perhaps dubious audience with a riveting, out-there live show that is, without a doubt, unlike that of any other performer I've seen this year. First onstage came her near orchestra-size backing band -- two drummers, two keyboardists/synth players, a saxophonist, a guitarist, and two female backup dancers and singers. 

All, male and female alike, were done up in the Bones! aesthetic -- fluorescent face paint, perhaps, or a cloud-print suit, or a beaded headdress, or ridiculously puffy neon dresses. When not jumping in place, those backup singer/dancers played percussion, gleefully tapping empty liquor bottles with spoons. Actually, in comparison, Bones!, in a quilted sweater, orangey/magenta tights, and huge fabric-covered cubes attached to her sleeves, looked almost toned down.

Her behavior, though, was not. From the launch of the opening song "We Know All About U," Bones! jumped, danced, and worked both her band and the crowd into a frenzy like a neon shaman. While she has describe her actual music as "jungle punk," it's way more amorphous-sounding, even, than that. It can go from roiling, bubbling tribal percussion to a vaguely military march, to hi-hat heavy dance floor disco in one song. This takes a damn tight backing band to pull off, and this one was impressively up to the job.

And if writers at a loss for words have compared her, often, to Grace Jones, this isn't really accurate, either. Yes, they're both statuesque, striking black women. But where Jones' stage persona can be cold, even scary, Bones! is much more welcoming and friendly, gleefully inviting everyone else to participate in her frenzy. At one point, she dedicated a song to a random girl in the front of the crowd, and at another, she actually got people to rhythmically move, at her command, to the left, right, front, and back. "Don't worry about the person next to you," she assured, "you won't see him tomorrow!"

The set list's unrelenting uptempo intensity could make the songs a little same-sounding, but it could be forgiven. Ebony Bones! was coming out, dammit, and she wanted the art world to know. And if there's any artistic justice they'll spread the word.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I'm an automatic sucker for the very over-the-top-way in which Londoners let their freak flags fly.

Random Detail: The guy near me who kept yelling things like "Play the good one!" needed to dislodge the stick from his backside.

By the Way: While her debut album, Bone of My Bones, has yet to be officially released in the U.S., Bones! is already supposedly starting work early next year on the follow-up, tentatively titled Blood is the New Black. 

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