Sort of knowing what to expect from seeing her perform on Later with Jools Holland, I wombled along to see Christine and the Queens, 30-year old French singer songwriter Héloïse Letissier, deliver her infectious brand of g-funk heavy electro-synth pop. If you think that's a mouthful, it's also something of a misnomer, doing nothing to adequately embrace the depth of her sonic ability or performance.
For the uninitiated, 'Chris', as her self-titled second album released in September invites us to know her, is a woman for whom standing still would be akin to death. She moves, constantly, flicking between all-out homage to Michael Jackson and a fresh-to-death originality all her own. Her choreography, alongside a retinue of eight supremely talented dancers, is an exercise in illustrative fluidity; clearly deliberate and practised, but so effortless as to appear the coolest damn tic on the block.
Talking of the dancing first takes nothing away from the music, but it's so rare to find a contemporary singer songwriter for whom dancing is such an important element of their performance. From the precision of formation routines, to the staggering athleticism and stamina required of the dancers to run in sprinting rings around Chris for the full duration of one particular track, her love of the human body in motion is wholly apparent.
One scene involved the dancers acting out a slow-motion fight, culminating in an undulating tableau of bodies entwined and piled upon one another mimicking the movement of the rising, swelling oceanic tempest painted on the stage backdrop. The ensemble's ability to communicate the mood of every piece was heightened by their facial expressions - fear, love, brutality, loneliness among them - never corny or overwrought.
Chris's voice never sounds forced - the lack of vocal acrobatics allows her songs to breathe on their own merit, the sentiment inherently understood, even when she's singing in her curious trademark mix of mashed-up French/English and chucking in Edward Lear-style nonsensicals in order to maintain her rhythmic narrative without compromise for a missing metaphor that'd never adequately translate to either language.
Her music is poetic, whilst not necessarily being 'poetry'. The ballads, simpler in their language than the more upbeat tracks, rooted in a very French tradition of love songs. Chris jibed the audience with a couple of chuckling threats of 'singing (us) a very sad song in French' as a sorbet between the pop funk. And we lapped those up too because we were exhausted just watching her and needed a rest before the next astonishing feat of choreographic genius.
There were no costume changes (Chris appearing in her favourite get-up of black cigarette pants, chunky trainers and little black bra, with a scarlet silk shirt casually knotted at the waist), nor astounding displays of pyrotechnics, but there were several touches of stripped-back stagecraft that delivered more in their simplicity than any amount of complex tricks. Dense whirling clouds of dry ice, into which Chris and the dancers dis and re-appeared, a single green flare, held aloft by one of the dancers, looking for all the world like a revolutionary about to revolutionise everything in his path. For the final song on the set list, three slim columns of some kind of feather-light powdery substance fell stagewards, rotating slowly as they caught a breeze, turning into miniature tornados. It was all so very understated, but nonetheless captivating.
The two final un-setlisted numbers were yelled for with the kind of fervour commonly reserved for boybands, although the 4,000-strong audience ran the full gamut of ages from teenagers to at least one group of women of around seventy. I believe all of us fell a little bit in love with Chris.
And Chris seemed genuinely surprised and touched that four thousand people had come to see her on the first night of her first UK tour. She engaged us with a gentle sort of confidence, nothing brash or explicit in her tone. Her ability to front was saved entirely for her performance; attitude for days, swagger the like of which any snake-hipped, shirtless rock star would kill for and yet, by contrast, vulnerability and tenderness that brought tears to my eyes.... twice.
The scene where she removed her shirt and, back turned to us, reached up in a gesture of absolution to the towering tempest depicted on the backdrop, had me dry-mouthed. Her skin, pale as alabaster, gave her the look of a Caravaggio painting, and, asking to be devoured by nature she mimicked swimming to the crest of the waves, before taking flight above them. Just one little human in the face of everything else. Wordlessly, using just the movement of her body she told us; we all feel like this sometimes.