Christine and the Queens | photo by Matthew Shaver for WXPN
Christine and the Queens hold court at Union Transfer
Héloïse Letissier is a star. That may not be news to you if you’ve been following her work as Christine and the Queens since her 2014 debut Chaleur Humaine, or even its English 2015 translation simply titled Christine and the Queens. It might not even be a surprise if you’re just getting acquainted with her via this year’s commanding, life-affirming sophomore album Chris. There is a difference, however, between recognizing stardom and witnessing stardom, in real time, on stage. Letissier’s performance at Union Transfer last Friday was a showcase of stardom at its best. Equal parts vivacious, vulnerable, and virtuosic, it saw the radiant French popstart bring the kind of spectacle usually reserved for big arenas and amphitheaters to an indie club without losing any of its grandeur.
The set began with a theatrical gathering of dancers under a spotlight, riffing like a gang of street tough extras from a production of West Side Story. From there, an omnipresent if always shadowed band revved up the synths and syncopation of Chris opener “Comme si” as Letissier joined her gang, showing off her deeper, fuller new vocal range while corralling them into the first of several striking choreographies throughout the night. Just as she does on album, Letissier effortlessly, breathlessly bent genre and gender norms into and over each other for the next hour and a half through her bilingual songs about desire, devotion, and determination. Her music, like that of pop legends Madonna, Michael, and Prince, is a masterclass in synthesis. Such influences, though worn proudly on her sleeve, were never on the nose. In fact, she managed to seamlessly flow an excerpt of Janet Jackson’s classic “Nasty” (complete with the dance) into the album and set standout “Damn (what must a woman do)”.
The largely LGBTQ+ audience was rapt from the first synchronized swing of her hips, singing and screaming along every step of the way. This clearly delighted Letissier, who was warm and welcoming between songs, with a sweet sense of humor that added a breezy intimacy and spontaneity to the otherwise meticulously staged spectacle. Other highlights included a soft, solo rendition of Chaleur standout “Paradis Perdus”, a frantic run through of recent single “Doesn’t matter” that gave each of her dancers a chance to shine with their own unique moves, and best of all, a literally moving encore that saw Letissier perform the heartbreaking “Saint Claude” on a makeshift stage in the middle of the crowd before starting her own soul train back through everyone to the stage where she closed with housey one-off “Intranquillité”. It was a perfect note to end the evening on, a reminder that embracing fluidity in life can be challenging and lonely, but also celebratory once you find other people who share your desire to color, and dance, outside the lines. Or at least once you find a performer with the power to realize that desire on stage for the rest of us to see.
As Christine and the Queens, Héloïse Letissier is that performer. She is that star. Catch her when you can.