The most inventive pop star of the moment has turned into an angel
When Christine and the Queens last performed four months ago, at London’s Royal Festival Hall, it looked as though an entire costume and set department had spilled onto the stage. But the French singer’s show on Saturday night in Manchester, part of this year’s BBC Radio 6 Music Festival, stood in stark contrast. Gone were the plaster saints and votive candles; the armour, traffic cones and dangling Moon. Only a pair of angel wings remained.
The puckish performer, born Héloïse Letissier but now using a range of names – he came out as a trans man in 2021 – appeared on an empty stage in a black waistcoat, and pulled the room towards both his voice, which swept from falsetto to theatrical gusto, and the supple moves of his body. Gone too were the backing dancers from his 2018 shows, slick performances that accompanied the taut electronic pop of his first two albums, Chaleur Humaine (2014/2015) and Chris (2018).
Saturday’s hit-heavy set still borrowed plentifully from those records. An athletic trifecta of 5 Dollars, Doesn’t Matter and Tilted (his most popular single) gratified the audience, while amid monologues about knights, sailors and angels – “I fell from the sky,” he said by way of beginning the night – the 2014 number iT touched on a more personal meaning with its chorus, “I’m a man now”. Elsewhere, Letissier devoted a third of the set to Redcar les adorables étoiles, the 2022 album that corresponded with that overstuffed Festival Hall show. A reflection on loss that marries gothic synth work with Dantescan chivalry, Redcar is as overshadowed by confusion as by the experience of grief itself, and its challenging songs occasionally galvanised the Manchester crowd, not least in the fierce guitar of Je te vois enfin – but more often they were lost to the barn-like Victoria Warehouse, a venue rightly notorious for its poor sound-quality and worse views.
Redcar was billed as a prologue to Paranoïa, Angels, True Love, a 90-minute concept album due this June, and which Letissier calls “a rock opera about angels”. Featuring three appearances from Madonna, the new album flaunts Letissier’s reach into mainstream pop, and two tracks made their debut in Manchester, including the set closer Track 10, a grandiose, riff-heavy piece. Then Letissier reappeared in enormous, fluffy white angel-wings with the Madonna-esque line “gods of music, take me there”, before launching into Lick the Light Out, complete with bright white light, 1980s power chords, and a spoken-word segment from Madge herself.
It all finished with Letissier’s latest single, To Be Honest, an accessible hit that upon release earlier this month out-streamed most of the tracks on Redcar. But rather than structured pop, his newer material seems a cathartic, almost holy release of feeling. It was a shame that it was marred by its venue, no place for a focused performance that tipped into the realms of theatre and poetry. Angel wings or not, on Saturday night Letissier belonged not in a warehouse, but a church.
No further UK dates; touring abroad. Tickets: christineandthequeens.com