Christine And The Queens, Lava La Rue: O2 Apollo, Manchester


Christine and the Queens

Christine and the Queens brought high drama to a second straight sold out night at Manchester Apollo, Getintothis’ Howard Doupé witnessed a gig that will live long in the memory.

How do you approach a gig like this, then? Christine and the Queens have been gaining vast swathes of critical attention this year. Having scored the biggest selling UK debut album of 2016, the live performance venues have been ramped up a step, all selling out, in support of her second release Chris.

Delving further into her life as a queer woman who embraces her pansexual identity, Héloïse Letissier – the artist known as Christine and the Queens – now preferring simply Chris has a new sound, new show and new live experience.

Already the shows have been causing quite a stir across Europe with gushing acclaim across the board. Tales of evocative choreography exploring gender identity and sexuality, inventive 80’s inspired music and huge doses of charisma, it’s enough to get us very excited. We’re not alone – the UK leg closes with two nights at the magnificent setting of Manchester’s Apollo.

As we arrive warming up the crowd of all ages is Lava La Rue with her DJ and live spits approach. She’s doing her best on her own to inject thought and purpose into the masses. Maybe it’s a little too early for tonight’s audience to get too excited though.

There is a little involvement on the floor and efforts match her enthusiasm along with the brightness of her pink cowboy hat. It’s all beats and empowering rhymes. To be fair, not a bad a start really.

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As the lights dim for the main event, the band clad in black subtly take their positions without a murmur in front of a huge French Alps summers day scene backdrop. All eyes are however on the six dancers that have arrived, dressed in bright, casual street clothing, the air of anticipation is electric.

Letissier arrives with new album high octane opener Comme Si then lead single Girlfriend. A French village set allows the dancers to parade amid the stalls and what look like wood cabins before they’re briskly slung off stage setting the standard for what’s to prove to be a whirlwind of an evening.

The pace is racing – funk, beats, energy and oozing sexuality. A visual feast explodes as the mediums soar to higher levels – art as art forms. All night the music seamlessly blends with street art, movement, physical expression and an emphasis on inclusion and exploration of the self.

It’s fast. Lightening, in fact. Following the whole interpretation on stage is hard work – but compulsive viewing.

This is simply the pinnacle of a ‘performance’. As dancers work through complex choreographed routines, Letissier delivers a flawless vocal and visual show. The whole thing flows like silk, with flickers of inspiration teasing through the mix – if you’re quick enough to catch it.

Was that a bit of Paula Abdul? Those moves definitely come from Smooth Criminal. Was that scene in a Kate Bush video?

When it does all slow down, it’s becomes a deeply personal dialogue, full of intimacy and warmth. A brief run through her history is shared, how she has battled with identity and evolved into the comfort of gender-fluidity.

A ‘more muscular’ short-cropped, athletically-toned trouser wearing persona we find on Chris. It’s a world away from her original incarnations – but with the same desires, ‘I am French of course, I had to come out some time,’ states Lettisier to an emphatically supportive cheer.

Alone on the stage for the first time, Lettisier delivers a tune highlighting that female fragility she seems determined to leave behind. It’s a beautiful, impassioned moment as her voice and voice alone showcases the breadth of her talent.

As the dancers drift back intricately into position the theatre resumes. The psychodramas continue, visually equaling anything we’ve witnessed at a West End musical. It’s smart, innovative and hugely engaging. Lettisier brings perfectly timed interactions with her dancers while the supporting cast move in and out of sync using the whole stage area feeding off each other’s eroticism and passion.

It’s captivating and the respectful silence is broken for the first time when breakthrough single Titled is introduced – having been lost in the moment, we’re suddenly aware of thousands of voices singing back her lyrics as the six figures on stage arch and twist their limbs in tandem.

We hardly notice at one point the whole band have been wheeled stage right as Lettisier walks slowly to the back of the stage. Away from the crowd the over-sized red shirt is dropped and what follows is a very physical shedding of skin, a cloak of identity as the cocoon-like persona that once was Christine writhes and contorts into Chris. Muscular, taut and almost like a Greek Adonis.

It’s striking just how many BIG tunes she has in her arsenal already – 5 Dollars, Damn (What Must A Woman Do), iT and Doesn’t Matter are all absolute bangers while the sensual The Walker sees her stand stage centre as sand drips from the ceiling in one of many quite remarkable one-off moments.

With the backdrop gone, faux snow falls as Lettisier engages with a lone androgynous dancer for Goya! Soda! in a routine that’s pure visual poetry. It’s a contemporary re-telling, dismissive of gender or identity- Juliet & Juliet.

The story unfolds reflecting desire, torment, frustration and jealousy, compassion and love. All the while Lettisier sings the tale, that ends in an embrace as white fog rises from between the entwined bodies.

Maybe the finale was the icing on the cake. A balcony-delivered ballad Saint Claude followed by a crowd walk through aloft dancer’s shoulders. All the while serenading the sea of smartphones held high, torches lighting up for all to see. This was a performance on how to deliver pop sensibilities with modern day theatrics expressing everything music alone just can’t do.

Comme si on s’aimait? Too right we did Chris, too right.