“Theatre can be just carrying on,” Chris tells Hammersmith Apollo from the darkness, after the series of sublime landscapes fluttering behind her as backdrops – paintings peering straight into a wind-grazed heath from a Romantic novel – have all been torn down, one by one. “I’m wounded, guys,” she adds, “but I’m carrying on!”
From the beginning, Christine and the Queens’ art has been concerned with exploring deep and profound pain, and ultimately surviving it. On ‘Chaleur Humaine’ – her debut album – her wound was inflicted by trying fruitlessly to fit in and belong as a young queer woman. All softness and curved edges, it was introspective and craved warmth. In contrast, this year’s follow-up ‘Chris’ is raw and dirty – it exudes all the carefree energy of a misfit who’s gleefully done with trying to conform. “Vive la France?” she asks the audience quizzically, responding to an enthusiastic fan down the front. “Vive la everyone! Free to change your mind, free to change your name – you can call me Chris”.
Surrounded by a cast of dancers from the French contemporary dance collective (LA)HORDE), each with their own flourishes and differing styles, Chris’ show bears absolutely no resemblance to a conventional pop show. Instead, it’s an engrossing piece of pure performance, each song transforming into a vivid scene from the ‘Chris’ playbook. The prowling ‘Damn (What Must A Woman Do)’, a beast of a song, yearning to get off in an ecstatic muddle of lust and desire, is matched by piercing golden light and spluttering bursts of white glitter, giving Chris and her gyrating troupe the vague appearance of the stars of Flashdance. Elsewhere they construct human chariots from their bodies, riding across tempestuous waves like an old tale from Greek mythology. For the swaggering, bicep-flexing ‘Girlfriend’ they form a motley gang among rolling green hills. This is theatre, alright.
Years of relentless touring has strengthened Chris’ body; in various interviews she’s spoken about discovering her newly defined muscles and capabilities. Undoing her crimson shirt to bear her stomach and removing it completely during debut cut ‘Here’, Chris’ body and physicality centres the entire show. With the poise of a ballerina she flexes and moves; a meeting of incredible strength and grace. And yet, we’re seeing it incorporated in an entirely new way – defying the male gaze, she is not here to excite or be devoured by hungry eyes. Instead, Chris’ strength is both impressive and intimidating, pinching tropes from masculinity and macho culture, and queering it up.
Preceding ‘Damn (what must a woman do)’, ‘Goya Soda’ serves as something of a dramatic finale for the main segment of the show. As the opening synth lines squelch into life, Chris stands stock still, showered with icy white snow. Liza Lapert, a dancer with cropped hair, shyly pecks her on the cheek, and the pair proceed to play out the song’s hopeless narrative, bringing an off-balance love affair to life through movement. “To love him is to scare a mist, make a fauna flee,” Chris sings, as she’s caressed and grabbed at, and eventually gives into the seduction with a tender embrace. Her elvish companion dissolves into mist in front of her eyes; Chris is left alone in a haze of murky green. The whole scene is magical.
Such dramatic bombast could border on being ‘a bit wanky’ in the wrong hands; theatre has a tendency to feel like a detached alternate reality. Luckily enough, the only hint of wankery tonight comes from her second album’s focus on sex and self-pleasure. With a goofily likeable stage presence that continually punctures the theatrical bubble, Chris mainly mucks about between songs, cracking jokes that seem throwaway but hint towards smart, vital things; relationship dynamics, queerness, her own power she holds on stage as the star in the spotlight. “Thank you for the knickers!” she beams cheerfully at one point, proudly tucking a lacy red number into her pocket. “She says I’m sexy!” Chris adds, for the benefit of those further back. “Noted.”
As the mist clears and the lights fade, Chris then proceeds to shatter the fourth wall completely, singing ‘Nuit 17 à 52’ sans instrumental backing. “Don’t underestimate the power of a sad French song,” she advises. For the encore, meanwhile, Chris apparates on the balcony of Hammersmith Apollo and waves her red shirt like a spritely picador. “I’m not Romeo and Juliet!” she jokes, leading into ‘Saint Claude’ “I don’t have time to wait!”
After performing high above the stalls, Christine and the Queens ends her set by joining the audience below her, dancing with them to ‘Intranquillité’. A dance song snatched straight from the Parisian discotheque, it’s the only logical ending for tonight’s perfectly pitched show. Chris has many talents – production flair, imagination, vocal skill, physical creativity – but her most important quality is her ability to connect directly with her audience. When she sings, you feel the wound that aches. That’s the rarest thing of all; a instinctive core that’s impossible to fake.