The stratospheric rise of Héloïse Letissier, international Queen of Pop, is confirmed tonight in Manchester. Although there were hints to where the Nantes-born French woman was heading following her electrifying UK festival slots at Latitude and Glastonbury in the summer, this current tour has officially confirmed that her star-status is no longer confined to her home country.
The sense of anticipation is certainly palpable this evening. The lights dim and an almighty roar fills the cavernous Apollo theatre, greeting Christine and the Queens as Héloïse and her troupe of dancers and musicians appear amidst the shadows. First track Starshipper is a subtle introduction, performed almost in darkness with only a pulsing spotlight illuminating the subject of our gaze. It is almost a Marlene Dietrich moment, oozing continental class, but the song climaxes in an explosion of light and passion which the crowd reciprocate with equal abandon.
We’re reminded that we can be whatever we want to be this evening. “If you want to be a train, be a train”, Heloise exclaims and nearly four thousand fans accept this unequivocally. There is a connection that has developed between the artist, her music and her fans that transcends the typical adoration of stardom that the genre is perhaps synonymous with. This is pop with a purpose, refined through experience, humanized and erratic. The joys come from the unexpected rather than the predictable conventions associated with the genre and Half Ladies and iT lithely demonstrate this mercurial approach as routines imperceptibly transform, provocatively and with incredible invention, never feeling choreographed.
The album’s reception in this country appears to have been built around the initial success of the huge hit Tilted. There is a lengthy introduction from Héloïse establishing the context of this song and indeed how she metamorphosed into Christine and the Queens following guidance from London’s drag queen scene during a point in her career when direction was lacking. The crowd hang on every word. They know what is coming and when the synthy introduction fills the hall a huge cheer quickly follows. This is certainly for the song, but also seems to be for Héloïse, for honesty and for integrity. Tonight’s performance is certainly not built around the success of one song however and debut record Chaleur Humaine possesses many more inspired moments that surpass this particular track. As if to prove this point, album highlight Safe and Holy follows. On record, this song is an earnest, twenty-four carat synth gem but live this vital epic, full of drama, takes on an even greater, imposing and grandiose demeanour. Héloïse’s vocals are lifted to new, intense heights and vivid reds flood the stage, enhancing the ambiguous menace that courses intensely through the song, arriving at an unrestrained, captivating climax that stirs the soul. Once again, we are reminded that this is not pop music as we used to know it.
Saint Claude pushes the previous track for best on the record and when it arrives this evening we are again offered some context to the song. Claude was an eccentric boy on the streets of Paris and Héloïse didn’t have the courage to intervene when he was tormented by bullies who feared his idiosyncrasies. Claude is the name Héloïse has given to this boy but we all know a Claude and this is why these songs and this album have transcended the initial language barrier. The songs this evening may possess an air of melancholy about them, but they are presented in such an open and revealing way that there is a sense of joy and abandonment that accompanies every moment. The X Factor generation have been offered salvation!
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Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto