Story By Danielle Cheesman
LOS ANGELES, CA—It was less than a week ago when Grimes confidently told the Guardian we’d “never…be able to” “pin down [her] style.” And after watching her perform at the Mayan on Monday night (November 2), I could only throw my hands up in faux surrender and nod in agreement.
Because she wore dip-dyed purple hair like a punk, but styled it into a cheerleader’s high ponytail. Because she rocked ripped stockings, but paired them with a set of oversized fairy wings affixed to her back. Because she was donning an orthopedic walking boot on her right foot like she was healing from rough-housing, but had decorated it with the type of blacklight-reactive neon tape you’d find in an arts and crafts store. And because, every so often, she’d stop her airy, childlike vocals to let out a jarring growl you’d swear came from the mouth of a heavy metal-er.
As part of Red Bull Sound Select’s 30 Days in LA concert series, Grimes’ set opened with two dancers who, consistent with their headliner’s dichotomous appeal, appeared to be half-ballerina/half-Jabbawockee and wore custodial-like jumpsuits illuminated with fluorescent Day-Glo stripes, naturally. Their theatric moves introduced the 27-year-old Canadian singer (born Claire Boucher) who, without a single bandmember on stage to support her, hopped back-and-forth the entire evening between a raised platform (where two electronic instruments stood) and the stage, like someone trying to avoid a puddle.
“Circumambient” served as the opener while the sonically complex “Genesis,” one of her most successful releases, followed: its plucky synths, piano scales, staggered vocals and other abstract sounds still layered to make one unintelligible hit. (This marked the point of the evening in which Grimes’ duo pulled out wanded streamers, like your favorite Ribbon Dancers of the ‘90s, for some synchronized twirling. Later, they spun three-pronged swords.) Grimes also shared “Venus Fly,” the Janelle Monae-assisted collaboration from her upcoming album, Art Angels. It asked a sassy "Why you lookin’ at me?" on the chorus before the beat suddenly muffled and Grimes pulled back from her board to announce: “I fucked that up real bad; there’s like 50 buttons here.”
As promised, what I thought I knew about Grimes as an ominous electro-pop pixie dissolved over the ethereal haziness of the romantic “REALiTi.” And during the dubstep breakdowns of “Go” (a song originally written for, and rejected by, Rihanna). And while listening to the Mandarin rap-driven nu-metal of “Scream.” And, again, on the cartoony, K-pop-inspired “Phone Sex.” And also when she declared that her inspiration for “Kill V. Maim” was imagining “Al Pacino in ‘Godfather 2’ as a vampire.’” And, finally, when she danced—jerking and twitching about like a broken sprinkler on one song, but then dropping to the floor like a pro and helicoptering her ponytail around like Beyoncé in a wind machine on another.
I can’t escape this wordplay and I hate myself for doing it but, like the title of her breakthrough album, Grimes is an enigmatic vision.