Towards the end of her sold-out appearance at the Paradise on Thursday, Heloise Lettier (“Christine” of Christine and the Queens) took a scarf handed to her by an audience member and dramatically draped it around her neck. “I rather like it,” she joked, “I think I’ll keep it!” As the audience’s laughter died down, the scarf’s meaning became clear as she explained that her next song: the gorgeous “Saint Claude.”
The song is a story taken from Lettier’s own life—it’s meant as a retroactive apology to a friend whom she did not defend when he was mocked for his dress. It’s easy to see why his situation especially resonated with Lettier, an artist who has embraced her perceived “freak” status and created Christine, the character she plays on stage.
For an outsider, Christine is awfully cool. Since her stellar performance at Boston Calling in May, French pop artist Christine and the Queen has continued to gain traction stateside, embarking on a headlining US tour and performing on Late Night.
Backed by four male dancers, a three-piece band, and a subtle lighting setup, Christine made clear from the start that her show had a narrative. Album standout “Half Ladies” served as her introduction to the Boston audience, intertwining sweet, rosy verses with a jagged, funk-inspired chorus that electrified the crowd. Completely immersed in the song, Christine switched in an instant from carefree, joyful dancing to polished, tightly choreographed formations, nearly disappearing into her own music with each twist and turn. On the bridge, however, she momentarily halted her movements, crouching in the spotlight to give weight to the song’s vulnerable, tear-stained centerpiece: “Every insult I hear back/darkens into a beauty mark.”
There’s a duality about Christine’s stage presence—while her music describes a struggle between two gendered identities, she seems confident in her choices. As she launched into “iT”, a bright red light swelled behind her, adding a new layer of intensity to a song already brimming with self-confidence: “and there’s nothing you can do to make me change my mind/I’m a man now.” Towards the end, as the music begins to die down, she threw in the refrain of Tame Impala’s “Cause I’m a Man,” to finalize her choice: “’Cause I’m a man, woman/That’s the only answer I’ve got for you.”
Christine and the Queens embraces and explores musical and ideological tension in her live show, especially through her trademark style of dance, a quirky blend of Michael Jackon-esque thrusts and pivots and unconventional (sometimes even awkward) movements. Her style of dance explicates the primal, weird urgency that lies at the heart of many of her songs, resisting objectification and radiating self-assuredness. Numbers like the delightfully strange “Science Fiction” see her flit from one side of the room to the other, methodically decorating the stage with minimal, graceful movements that seemed to hover in the air moments after she’d crossed to the other side. During the white-hot “No Harm is Done,” she prowled the stage with almost inhuman intensity, combining the deadly accuracy of her vocal performance with erratic, Exorcist-inspired dance moves. While the dancing by itself was mesmerizing, it was a natural—maybe even necessary—extension of the music that she performed.
While Lettier is clearly a talented dancer, she’s also a musician of rare ability, both as a vocalist and songwriter. “Saint Claude” was probably her best vocal performance of the night. Lovingly moulding the song’s chorus out of a heartfelt falsetto, “Here’s my station/ But if you say just one word I’ll stay with you,” Lettier had the Boston crowd under her sway without lifting a finger. On other tracks, such as “Paradis Perdus” (a mashup of Kanye West’s “Heartless” and French singer Christophe’s “Paradise Perdus”), she gave us a taste of the full range of her vocal talents, unleashing an impassioned vocal that reminded one more of a soul singer than a French pop artist.
In short, Christine and the Queens is easily one of the best live acts around. While Christine’s music often zeroes in on complex and heavy themes such as gender, identity, and broken relationships, on Thursday night she radiated a warmth and confidence that filled every inch of the small venue. With the thought-provoking lyrics, stunning choreography, and high level of musicianship, you’d be wise to catch Christine and the Queens next time they’re in town.
- Slick dance and lighting choreography
- Excited, involved crowd
- World-class musicianship and stage presence
- Performance of "Tilted" was a little tired