Like most middle-aged music fans, I am adrift in an ocean of digital download channels, still clinging to my CD collection and a fading sense of relevance. At times like these I look to Jools Holland for guidance.
The 2016 appearance of Christine & The Queens on Later with… brought her much deserved wider attention. By then Héloïse Letissier, aka ‘Chris’, was already an established artist in her native France. A left-field performer with an eye for spectacle and a voice that could scalp Skepta, she stood out from the Grime artists and templated guitar bands that usually pass for cutting edge on BBC2. Two years later, at the Usher Hall, she takes the stage as a seasoned performer rather than ingenue. A woman totally in control of her presentation.
Tonight’s show is highly theatrical: the stage and band are dressed in black. The dancers are in primary colours, posing as a street gang. At their centre is Chris, a tiny splash of red with a colossal voice. She plays the toughest urchin in the gang, goading the audience and apparently inviting us out for a dust up in the carpark. There are a couple of kabuki drops and at one point it snows onstage. The dancers have been thoroughly drilled – the street dance routines are energetic and complex with Chris at the centre of each, singing flawlessly, despite the physical demands this must make.
Chris is a good host, taking time to chat between tunes and sharing some inclusive philosophy, and keen to make these gigs ’safe spaces’. She’s also funny – impressive in it’s own right for someone performing in her second language. And she’s confident enough to acknowledge her influences. Several of her songs are appended with the tunes that provided their inspiration. We hear snatches of Prince, Michael and Janet Jackson over the course of the evening. She not only indulged her fans by playing tracks from the new release, Chris, there were also renditions of Tilted, Science Fiction and Paradis Perdus, which made it seem more than just an album promoting exercise.
The encore sees her appearing in the balcony to perform two songs (marred slightly for your reviewer by the fact that the balcony in question was directly below me and therefore completely invisible to me and half the audience). She then headed down into the stalls and lead her gang through the crowd back to the stage, like a marooned sailor adrift in an ocean, swimming back to shore.