Photos by Neil Van
Chris sizzled, strutted and swaggered right into our hearts. A singular artist who delivers self-penned and self-produced songs with disarming humour, empathy, sensuality, and a whole lot of spectacular choreography with their six dancers.
Christine and the Queens is up there in my all time favourite musicians. She danced into my faves as a midday opener at Boston Calling in May 2016. So powerful was the lure of a strong, tiny pansexual prince with the best dance moves this side of Janelle Monáe that I decided to follow her around the tail end of her North American and British Chaleur Humaine tour two years ago. I saw this little French boss in a grey suit singing about being a man now and I was hooked. The draw of someone so different from any performer I’d seen before, yet so relatable and charming drew me in right from the start.
The persona of Chris/Christine is so unique and skilfully executed that her breakthrough in the UK occurred at alarming speed; playing a stunning set at Glastonbury and earning the biggest selling debut album of 2016 in the UK. It’s a testament to her artistic vision that her music performances filled a void we didn’t even realise was there – there’s no one else like Chris.
You may have already gathered that this is going to be less a review and more a love letter of glittering adulation. So strap yourself in and see if I can try to resist adding seventeen crying face emojis to every other paragraph.
Chris is an evolution of stage name Christine and the Queens: the character created back in 2010 by a heartbroken theatre kid morosely wandering the streets of London wishing to become a mist. Since then Chris been evolving into a strong, confident and downright heroic heartthrob. She’s challenging the inherent misogyny and virgin/whore dichotomy of music, art and society at large; Celebrating genderqueer otherness and playing some fantastically catchy pop.
Her first album Chaleur Humaine is a gentle, wounded and reflective affair; with a hopeful and burgeoning strength on tracks like iT and No Harm Is Done. The new LP Chris, builds on this strength, powering along like a train of machismo, and there’s no backing down. Whether it’s demanding the attentions of a fickle young suitor or feeling the terrible pain of loneliness; the listener is met with effusive welcome, soulful empathy and endless, sweaty desire. The fighting talk of the album echoes in the choreography on stage. More than anything, the album and the concert highlight that desire is for all – and Chris wants everyone.
As the lights lower, there’s a THX blast of 80s reminiscence and a smash – it’s probably the patriarchy. Because gender and the male gaze are about to be given a thorough subversion for 90 minutes as we celebrate the queer, gender flexing power of Chris. A flamboyant, cocksure young human swaggers onto the stage, bantering with their gang of dancers before kicking into joyful album opener Comme Si. This sets the stage for a rip roaring blast of fearless machismo as Chris and the crew flex through Girlfriend and French G-funk track Le G. This tiny whirling genius is from Northern France – and has written an entire album released simultaneously in French and English. A practice she’s somewhat familiar with after translating many of the tracks from her French debut into English for it’s US release.
Comme Si feels like a love letter to Chris’ fans “when you play me loud Baby/when you play me far…” it sends me back to a time of cassette tapes and recording trigger fingers. Listening to the music charts and trying to catch your favourite band before the DJ cuts in. It sets the scene for an 80s style Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis inspired record that sounds both modern and classic – encouraging you to get up, dance, and be proud of who you are. Chris’ greeting to the crowd is met with rapturous applause and cheers, and the reception for iT is so rousing, Chris takes a bashful step back and doffs her imaginary cap; a happy little clam thrilled, and a little scared, by the reception.
Chris’ tour has evolved from the beautiful empowering message of hope in Chaleur Humaine into a roaring, kicking, punching celebration of being here, Queer, and fucking taking what you want as long as everyone’s consenting. Chris is clear early on that this is a safe space – a free zone in which to be whatever you want to be for the time we have here. Desire is certainly at the fore – as Chris is pursued by dancers from a spectrum of genders; some adoring, some mocking and some charged with such raw energy, you don’t know if they’re going to kiss or punch each other. It’s thrilling.
That’s not to say that the latest tour is lacking in vulnerability. The Walker shows the pain still bubbling under the surface, and exploding out with Doesn’t Matter. What’s Her Face and Here bring out the captivating intensity of Chris alone on stage. With the skills of a dramatic actor, Chris gurns, grimaces and heaves across the stage; her back to the crowd, shirt dropped to the ground, writhing and heaving as she struggles to metamorphose, to escape her own skin though the thrumming intensity of Here’s crescendo. It’s all compelling beauty and raw power.
The Stranger is a pinnacle among many high points in the group choreography of the concert (created by Chris in collaboration with La Horde). A jangled harpsichord launches a slow motion fight; a Baroque painting come to life. The crowd is spellbound as the dancers become a living, breathing work of art – a ship on the waves with Chris as their figurehead. A tableau of the mind blowing ingenuity. Staging at it’s finest.
Chris and dancer Lisa continue to mesmerise the crowd with Goya! Soda! Telling a story of fascination, desire and frustration with a young man, played by Lisa, in a romantic pursuit, almost seduction and rejection. The stage is moody and full of smoke and so is Lisa. The fantastical mist that she becomes at the end of the song elicits huge cheers of amazement. Damn (What Must a Woman Do) builds on the sexual energy; the fighting talk of a woman trapped in a society that tries to hide and challenge her craving para Follarse. These tracks blindfold the male gaze and allow Chris to wield her own sexuality masterfully; able to banish her lovers with a mere flex of her body. I defy anyone to see those songs back to back and not fall at least a little in lust with Chris.
It’s mind boggling when you remember that English is Chris’ second language – she flips between French and English and makes it seem effortless; writing in both languages while maintaining a poetry and patois in all of her tracks. The English lyrics are phrased, and somewhat ‘tilted’, in a way a native speaker wouldn’t think of – and it’s delightful. On stage she’s able to flip from English to French during The Walker/La Marcheuse and share a beautiful empathy for humanity; that we all bleed, whether it’s right in front of us or carried silently for years and years. Throughout the gig Chris has tender and genuine moments with the crowd; winning over anyone in her path with a self-deprecating and disarming charm. You get the sense from the way she holds herself that she’d be a gifted physical comedian.
The encore begins on the balcony of the Danforth, as Chris plays Saint Claude so beautifully it brings some to tears. She offers to let us go and carry on with our lives – but no one wants to leave. So she’ll tells us she’ll sing a lullaby, a soft landing to lull us to sleep…before powering into Intranquillité – a glorious dance tune from her EP of the same name. It’s an absolute killer of a track, and Chris makes her way dancing through the crowd to the stage, climbing on her dancers and giving us a last shot of adrenaline before the final bow. Everyone is free – united in the joy of this little French dynamo. And Chris is bowled over by the adoration.
Mid way through the set, the sight of Chris on stage hit me with a deep emotional gratitude. Seeing this strength in front of me – a tiny human who looks like they can defy the waves themselves. Being able to relate to her makes me feel powerful. When I’m feeling down, I have a queer, gender challenging pop superhero to draw strength from. To help me keep going. From Christine’s broken beginnings to Chris’ bombastic power; she’s inspiring queer kids, misfits, anyone who’s struggling, to stand up, dust off and walk. Because we all bleed.
Seeing Chris in flight is an exhilarating pleasure. I’ll be swaggering on a cloud for weeks.