by Jen Macro
This was an extra date added as the 2 Nov show sold out faster than an American applying for a Canadian visa after the US election. Initially I was only aware of Heloise Letissier’s alter ego Christine and the Queens in passing, as my boss had mentioned the name and, because it bore a resemblance to Marina and the Diamonds, I didn’t pay much attention. That was until I saw Letissier perform with her dancers on The Graham Norton Show, after which I scraped jaw off floor and tried to find out how I could see them live. A Later with Jools Holland slot plus Glastonbury and Latitude performances meant the extra Brixton date sold out too, and on arrival, the 5000 capacity venue was heaving.
The great thing about Brixton Academy is the sloping floor, meaning short-arses like myself have a chance of positioning themselves where they can see (at least most of) the stage. The bad thing about Brixton Academy is the sloping floor, as after 2 hours standing in the same spot with your feet at a 45 degree angle, you can no longer feel your toes, and the lactic acid has built up so much I your calf muscles that you can barely walk come exit time. This aside, the gig was fantastic. The sparseness of the set (a sparingly used video screen and three black podiums) and simple black clothing of the performers gave it a very minimal and post-modern feel.
There were points when a row of fluorescent tube lights lower down over the stage and ripple and contort, it is futuristic whilst being all sorts of elegant. The music, mostly electronic rhythm section and sparse melodic instrumentation leaves lots of space for the lilting vocals to standout, mostly in English but sometimes in French. The energy is infectious throughout, even when Letissier performs solo, quiet and still, the intensity is other worldly. The whole show is a lesson in the effectiveness of keeping it simple.
There is a lot of talking to the audience in between songs, from encouraging us to just ‘be what we want to be’ for the next 90 minutes, to stories of being a tiny angry French person in her youth navigating gender stereotypes, to ‘finding’ Christine in Madame JoJos and calling for the venue to be reopened. Whilst recalling the origins of the track ‘Saint Claude’ she stops to explain that a heckler just asked her (in French) to take her clothes off, to which she responded ‘no, I’m in the middle of a story here!’
She is likeable. Humble. She puts on an absorbing and highly entertaining show, describing herself as a ‘broken Beyonce’, or ‘reject Rihanna’. She is already a big female artist, at points she reminds of a more self-effacing Madonna (with better tunes), or Kylie with more passion and less shiny things, and like them, she will most likely fill stadiums at some point. For now I was happy being in a large bubble with her and 4999 others as opposed to watching a tiny dot on the stage. I thought it was interesting however, that she, like fellow ‘strong woman in music’ PJ Harvey – who played two nights at Brixton Academy earlier that week, surrounded herself with male performers on stage.