As the crow flies Brixton Academy – nestled away in South London – isn’t all that far from Paris. But then, the journey undertaken by Christine and the Queens isn’t necessarily about physical distance.
The project – led by the diminutive Héloïse Letissier – re-recorded its debut album for an Anglophone audience, with ‘Chaleur Humaine’ making a first week impression at a mere 132 on the UK charts. But word kept spreading, and the album kept rising – until here we are, in the doorway of Brixton Academy waiting for the first of two sold out nights from Christine and the Queens to begin.
It’s richly deserved. As the stage darkens, there’s a palpable sense of anticipation from the crowd, the expectation that tonight wouldn’t be a mere set-list unfolding but a show, a performance. Breezing into ‘Starshipper’ those expectations are immediately backed up – she’s incredible, each move, each swoop bringing cheers from the capacity crowd.
Stretching ‘Chaleur Humaine’ to its limit – as she bashfully explains, she only has one album - Héloïse Letissier utilises a simple, but enormously effective stage show. At one point, a light casts an enormous shadow on the backdrop, the singer’s body jerking and producing an un-nerving, enchanting silhouette that towers behind her.
The Christophe cover ‘Paradis Perdus’ flows into ‘Here’, with the rise and fall of the set mirroring the movements of Héloïse. At times, the spotlight falls down on centre stage, and she appears tender, alone – at others, though, the electronic beats tear through the historic venue, with her array of Queens ripping it up onstage.
Sluicing in a segment of ‘Uptown Funk’ to her version of Inner City’s pop-leaning techno classic ‘Good Life’, the singer seems to rejoice in the power of it all, the crowd on their feet and the lights dappled around her. And it’s those contortions, those elastic limbs that conduct the whole affair – precise, lucid, freakishly angelic, she’s a pop outsider who has navigated her own audience.
Completing the bulk of her debut album Héloïse leaves the stage for a short moment, before bounding back only a few minutes later, that ever-present beaming smile in place. Telling the crowd of her love for London – the entire concept for Christine and the Queens owes a heavy debt to the drag clubs of Soho – she then ushers in a simple, tender version of Terence Trent D’erby’s smash ‘Sign Your Name’. It’s cheesy, but it works – on a stage like this, a night like this, she wants to go big, to go bold.
There’s a moment, a slight lull, in tonight’s set when we get a chance to look at the crowd – all shapes and sizes, gender, sexuality, a random mish-mash of beliefs and desires, all sat side by side. As this year’s oft-repeated phrase has it, there’s more binds us together than tears us apart. Tonight, Christine and the Queens bound us together.
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