Christine and the Queens at Hammersmith Apollo
There’s always been a distinction between those who sing and those who perform, but Chris brings a whole new dimension of entertainment with her latest high-end, high-octane production. At Hammersmith Apollo, West Side Story meets funky French pop in a glorious collision of experimental music, theatre and choreography hot enough to melt a frosty and Brexit-fatigued British audience. With a cast led by one dazzling heroine and held up by an incredibly talented ensemble, Christine and the Queens put the crown on their UK tour with a seamless show, dancing with diversity to a stylish synth soundtrack.
Though small in stature, right from her entry the artist’s presence is so charged it bounces off the back wall. Running into view, two gangs, dressed simply in blocks of vibrant colour – Chris (Héloïse Letissier) in a loosely tied red blouse – converse in a language of fluid movement. Equally smoothly, they transition into a rendition of Comme Si, a track from this year’s eponymous album. Indeed, everything about the night is fluid: from the frontwoman’s silky vocals, which soar and swoop with effortless authority, to the fluid identities which she celebrates. “Welcome ladies, gentleman and everyone in between”, she shouts warmly, enveloping the crowd in her irresistible smile. The singer has talked openly about her pansexuality, and when she launches into another new track Girlfriend, a large proportion of the audience seem to want to take up that position, be it romantic or otherwise. One of many numbers to be influenced by the legendary Jackson siblings Michael and Janet, this sets off the evening with a cool, retro vibe.
Even with the addition of Chris’s unique brand of dancing, sensual and sleek, the music never fades into the background. Science Fiction, (the translated version from 2016’s English-language edition of Chaleur Humaine) bubbles into action with the futuristic electronic effects and syncopated rhythms that characterise the band’s stylish alternative sound. The charismatic performer excites an already buzzing crowd with her fast, infectious melodies before sedating us with a slower section. As the staging parts to create a larger dance space, movements become even more indulgent, and as we reach popular track Paradis Perdus, a backdrop of dark storm-clouds set the mournful mood.
The speed picks up again for the upbeat IT, which explores gender through clever, combative and intimate choreography. When Tilted – the hit that sparked the artist’s international rise to fame – finally comes, the roars are deafening. Chris performs her beloved routine with love, the song somehow speaking to every swaying spectator. A new number, 5 Dollars, gets another eager cheer and it’s clear to see why. A message about strength in the face of adversity, the chorus rises with spine-tingling energy and emotion, the dancers taking joyous bounds.
After slow and soulful ballads What’s-her-face and Here, which includes a powerfully exposed solo dance, Chris leaves the stage, only to return to dramatic drifts of paper snow and illuminated smoke, accompanied by the funky bass riffs of Goya Soda. Flares fade into black as she reappears to sing Nuit 17 à 52 a capella. “Never underestimate the power of a sad French Song”, she jokes, but her performance proves that behind her wit is a complex understanding of human emotions. This is further illustrated in The Walker, an exploration of depression in which sand falling on the stage creates a moving representation of time passing relentlessly, oblivious to pain.
Doesn’t Matter builds to a climax as Chris literally climbs a set of stairs to address the audience, and when she reappears for the eagerly awaited encore, she has somehow found an even higher position up on the balcony. An excited public scream out, but she assures them that even if they want to be Romeo, she has no time to be Juliet – and who can blame her? Her humour is alive right up to the last song, which she promises to be a calming lullaby, before reappearing in the crowd and bopping along club-style to Intranquilité in a final, fan-filled frenzy. It’s a wonder she still has the breath to sing, but we certainly aren’t telling her to stop.
Chris is the most generous of performers: she lays herself bare, and as a result, every second is filled with her electric personality. But even if her exploratory and expressive music doesn’t win you over, let her serenade you from the dress circle and you’ll soon be a loyal subject of the rising queen of pop.
Photo: Adrien Leguay
For further information and future events visit Christine and the Queens’s website here.
Watch the video for 5 Dollars here: