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Whatever next: Christine and the Queens live in London

07 November 2016, 11:12 | Written by Adam Elmahdi

To truly comprehend the phenomenon that is Héloïse Letissier - or to be more precise, her alter-ego Christine and the Queens - you really need to witness her live.

That's certainly not to say the many critical plaudits won by Chaleur Humaine, a beguiling fusion of off-beat synth-pop, sparse beats and slick R&B stylings reminiscent of peak Michael Jackson, were unearned in any way. Indeed, with lyrics exploring gender-fluidity, pansexuality and generally feeling out-of-place in the world, it's a breath of fresh air in a genre where formulaity and vacuity rules supreme. But similar to the likes of Bowie, Bjork and Monae, the songs are just an aspect (albeit the most prominent one) of an all-round artistic package, that blurs the line between music and other cultural forms.

In the case of Letissier, her performances are as much about dance as they are about the tunes, and from the outset this doesn't feel like a typical gig set-up. For one thing, the staging unabashedly veers towards the minimalist end of the spectrum. Except for an infrequently-employed array of fluorescent tubes that descend in patterns from the ceiling, an occasional back-wall projection, and the keyboard and drum-pads that comprise the entirety of her non-vocal live instrumentation, there's nothing on stage except her, her mic, and her retinue. Which would be a brave move to make in a venue this size, for a performer less confident (or perhaps, more self-conscious) than Letissier, but on the whole, she carries the whole thing off with an effortlessness of a true professional.

Admittedly, tonight's show at London's Roundhouse (2 November) starts on the slow side. The reliance on pre-recorded tracks and the initial lack of backing dancers comes across as too sparse, even with Letissier prowling around the blank void of a stage like a caged lion. In some ways it's reminiscent of The Knife's controversial Shaking The Habitual tour, albeit with significantly less neon. But things soon pick up once the four dancers come into play, who flank the diminutive Frenchwoman in a series of impressively energetic (and at times acrobatic) routines that prove more mesmerising than any fancy light show.

Her signature tune "Tilted", thrown out halfway through the set, cranks up the atmosphere to a fever-pitch, and by the time she gets to "Good Life", complete with a brief segue into "Uptown Funk", it's impossible not to admire her skill at working an audience. It also helps that her quirkiness rings true- in interviews she comes across as amicably eccentric, and this also comes across on stage. She recounts how she learnt to embrace her awkwardness and "not give a fuck" thanks to an chance encounter with the drag queens of Madame JoJo's (RIP), and that attitude that gives her otherwise polished performance a slight, but welcome edge.

In some respects, it's easy to see why the pop svengalis of Paris tried to push her into becoming a Francophone Lady Gaga or Lana Del Rey, as there's no doubt she would have excelled in either role. The fact she decided to take a far more idiosyncratic path is both admirable and wise, and although there's still room for improvement, it'll be exciting to see what this “tiny French singer with a tiny French repertoire” will do next.

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