21 Dec 2016

Christine and the Queens @ Manchester O2 Apollo (live review)

About halfway through her set, Heloise Letissier, dressed in the masculine guise of her alter-ego ‘Christine’, looked out at the audience and said “This is a free space, by the way! You want to be a train, that’s okay. You don’t like your name, you can change it here. You want to be a different gender...’ she swung to the back of the stage and flexed her muscles ‘And I just feel like such a little boy tonight!’

Letissier describes Christine as ‘a better version of herself’, who is freer and more confident (Letissier struggled with social anxiety when she was younger). By dressing like a man on stage she is not only making a stand against the sexualisation of female musicians, but she is also communicating that it’s okay to experiment. ‘Experimentation’ is an important word for Letissier. ’Acceptance’ is another : she has two tattoos, one reads We Accept You and the other One Of Us. (Side note: I am going to refer to Letissier as Christine throughout the rest of this review. It only seems right, considering it is as ‘Christine’ that she writes and performs).

I first heard Christine about a year ago, and since then my infatuation with her has blossomed into a healthy, fanatic obsession. The opportunity to see her live felt like a dream. My friend and I practically skipped into Manchester O2 Apollo, we secured our places at the barrier and waited for our spiritual awakening to commence. Christine and the Queens were supported by a rap group called Last Night in Paris. It was an odd choice. Their music was good fun and they seemed to have the same inclination towards experimentation and playfulness in music as Christine - they danced around the stage and brought on a sizeable projector screen that showed videos (in that trendy, 90’s, fuzzy style) of them producing music and trying on clothes. If Last Night in Paris had supported an R&B artist, the audience would have gone mad for them, however the response they elicited from an audience there to see some creative French synth-pop, was an unfortunate mix of confusion and awkwardness.

Christine opened the gig with Star-shipper. The floor underneath her was lit with a dreamy white light, pulsing in time with the heart-beat rhythm that throbs throughout the intro of the track. Christine’s art-pop, in all of it’s glamorous electronic glory, was made all the more incredible by how theatrical the gig was. Christine and the Queens is not just Heloise Letissier, it also includes two keyboard players, a guitarist and four insanely talented backing dancers. However, to describe them as ‘backing’ seems an injustice because of how equally they shared the stage with the leading lady. The songs that I’d listened to so many times alone in my room experienced a shimmering transformation when danced along to by Christine in that Michael-Jackson-esque way she has become known for.

She played all the best, up-beat tracks from Chaleur Humaine, like No Harm is Done, Titled and iT. Before Tilted she told us, in her endearing accent of French mingled with inflections of clipped, Queen’s English, “we can’t fit into the shapes society wants us too... we’re not straight”. Here she raised her eyebrows (Christine has been open about her sexuality in interviews). ‘So, we’re titled’. Christine had so much witty wisdom to deliver and we went wild to receive it.

She took to the stage by herself during Here and Paradis Perdus. Nearing the end of Here she performed what at first seemed like a very strange gesture: she held her hand over her face, pinching the air, then opened her hand wide at individual people in the audience, as if she was passing them some invisible force. I think she was passing them her strength - it was beautiful. The audience members chosen to receive Christine’s gift seemed bewitched, their eyes were wide, taking in this tiny French angel, who at that moment, in her men's chinos, looked like a beacon of hope for a better world, full of love, experimentation and acceptance.

It was an exciting feeling to be part of an audience so united and yet so diverse (the audience was made up of people aged 14 - 40 and older). The gig had a very relaxed and comfortable vibe, as everyone enjoyed Christine’s music in their own way: one teenage girl at the front was bawling her eyes out (Christine went over to her and said “Don’t cry darling”), while a couple of middle-aged guys next to me knew every word to every song and a woman, with her eyes closed, twisted her hands above her head, letting the music wash over her.

Christine spoke a lot throughout the gig about how ‘empty’ pop music is. “Who is speaking?” she said. She’s right - who is giving us the half-hearted advice to ‘be strong’ or  ‘love yourself’? So Christine is setting out to shake things up and give popular music a trustworthy, confident voice that is authentic. She’s filling in the gaps and reversing the mistakes pop music has made in the past, establishing a new genre of ‘aspirational, meaningful pop’ while she's at it. I left the gig feeling overwhelmingly inspired and empowered. My friend and I danced down the rainy streets of Manchester on the way home, mumbling broken bits of French, but shouting at the top of our lungs that explosive line from iT “No, I’ve got it! I’m a man now!”.

(Words: Lily Ball)