Turns out all it takes to get a Free at Noon crowd dancing that early in the day is permission from Christine and the Queens, a French artist with contagious confidence. But last time the singer, songwriter and producer played a show in Philadelphia, her project looked quite different. Héloïse Letissier was just beginning to find international success with her debut EP, released in French as Chaleur Humaine and in English as a self-titled Christine and the Queens. She’s still recording in both English and French, but this time her new album is simply called Chris, in both languages.
Part of the artist’s reinvention involved shortening her moniker to Chris, and sometimes displaying it as Chris
tine and the Queens. A bigger shift, though, came in her newfound, liberating approach to songwriting as she began to explore the confines of gender, settling into an androgynous appearance and writing music more sharply focused than her previous work. The songs on Chris may be influenced by 80s pop and iconic musicians from David Bowie to Michael Jackson, but as a recent profile on Chris in the New York Times points out, her thoroughly modern lyrics, many about eschewing traditional expectations, counter her retro sound.
With that approach to songwriting and recording comes an wholly captivating live performance that’s both fun and thought-provoking, as Chris and her entrancing team of backup dancers proved during today’s set. Though the set was short in length — they had to conserve energy for tonight’s Union Transfer show, after all — Chris more than made up for it with the evident amount of thought and care that was put into each song, both in its lyrical message and how it was translated onstage with intricate choreography.
Chris gave many of the songs a thoughtful introduction, like the hit single “Girlfriend,” which she described as being about “desire as a force of chaos in life.” She powered through more album standouts including “5 Dollars” and “Doesn’t Matter,” plus her 2014 breakthrough single “Tilted,” without a lapse in energy (“I’m sweating,” she admitted at one point). She closed out the set with Chris track “The walker,” a song about carrying on in spite of challenges, starting to sing it in English before switching to French so seamlessly that it didn’t matter if you understood the singer’s words in her native language or not.
Christine and the Queens have a few more US tour dates before they head back to Europe, and tickets are still available for their show tonight at Union Transfer. See the XPN Concert Calendar for more information.
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