words: Sarah Rix // photos: Rick Clifford (@rcstills)
“…What Christine makes is perfect pop for the outliers. It’s a celebration of a safe space, of artistry, and of the embracement of the weird..”
Spending your hard earned wages on a Christine and the Queens ticket is, as far as value for money goes, excellent bang for your buck. It’s not just a concert. It’s a full on stage production, with the French pop artist throwing her crowd an abundance of choreography, like she’s starring in an off-broadway, hipster-ised adaptation of West Side Story.
When the lights came on stage to a sold out Melbourne crowd at The Forum, the big song-and-dance ambitions were laid out from the get-go. Her four band members and six backup dancers stood around, animatedly chatting. Then, the titular Christine (otherwise known as Chris or Héloïse, depending on the time of day and who you ask) came on stage and the movement began.
For someone that goes to a lot of shows, seeing highly choreographed work – particularly in a setting that isn’t a stadium – is a rarity. It’s a risky move, too, as there’s a tendency for things to feel stilted and over-rehearsed. Thankfully, for Chris, and in spite of the amount of attention to detail she and her crew have thrown into the production, there’s still plenty of opportunity for engagement and presence.
It helps, too, that for her debut Australian tour, the audience was very much there in anticipation – throwing back energy and enthusiasm with reckless abandonment.
“This is Christine and the Queens, and we’re in Australia for the first time!” she said to her adoring fans with a smile, launching into “Girlfriend” – an upbeat disco number and the lead-off single from 2018’s Chris. The sophomore album has garnered major critical acclaim, offering up stronger approaches to songwriting and sharp pop punctuations than its (similarly critically acclaimed) predecessor, 2014’s Chaleur humaine.
Chris later explained that the two albums are about the same thing, just dealt with in different ways. The first way was through tears – the second, through sweat. “Bodily fluids,” she joked.
Between belting out notes and extended dance breaks, there was a very real sense of celebration to the entire art house production. And, indeed, Chris seemed to be portraying the confidant lead to the entire thing – flirting with the audience in both her dance moves and her banter.
“You’re ready,” she said early on. “So present and ready. Giving me fire!”
Musically and theatrically, the “Chris” persona owes some thanks to the work of the Talking Heads and David Byrne’s approach to a live show. You can tell how well thought-out and presented everything is; there’s no stone left unturned. She gives a lot to her crowd and it all comes from a very genuine place.
“Tilted” was an easy crowd favourite, while “5 dollars” gave her the chance to show off an impressive voice with her, stage centre, and her dancing troupe moving around her to convey all the energy and underlying themes of the work.
“Playground”, meanwhile, provided the dark, emotional contrast of the night. Then, a single spotlight illuminated her on stage as a persistent electronic line played alongside some starkly placed keys.
If I have a sole critique of the show, it’s that it might have been nice for her to bring along a couple of backup singers. For much of the night, pre-recorded backing tracks accompanied her spotless vocals. Throwing in some other singers on stage would up the sense of spontaneity a bit – a line the production’s already battling thanks to the extensive choreography.
I’m being nit-picky, though. What Christine makes is perfect pop for the outliers (though there’s also so much going on you don’t necessarily need to know the songs to be appreciative of the show.)
It’s a celebration of a safe space, of artistry, and of the embracement of the weird. It’s also as much a celebration of her music as it is of the dancers she surrounds herself with and the fans that support her, too.
She played into this by starting her encore amongst the audience, standing on top of the booths at the back of the Forum. “You’re going to be hard to equal,” she said, following the crowd’s applause for the slowed ballad. “It’s going to be hard to forget.”
Of course, her humour carried the Melbourne audience into the last song of the night – Chris telling everyone she would send them off with one last song, a French lullaby to help everyone “relax, go home and forget this night ever existed.” It was then that the thumping electronic beat kicked in and she danced her way through the crowd, back to the stage, like a contestant on Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
Hugely entertaining, from start to finish. It’s nice to see Chris embrace her strength, turn it into a party, and give it all back to her fans through a polished, endearing performance.