Published Jul 31, 2015Héloïse Letissier, who records under the Christine and the Queens moniker, is already firmly established as a star in her native France: the 27-year-old's exceptional 2014 LP Chaleur humaine followed a series of well-received EPs and justifiably garnered her both commercial and critical acclaim — over 450,000 copies sold, Female Artist of the Year and Video of the Year at France's Victoires de la musique, and the top spot on many critics' year-end lists. Letissier has already started to make inroads in North America as well, thanks to standout performances at SXSW and an English-language EP on Neon Gold/Atlantic.
Hitting the stage at 8 p.m. sharp with "Starshipper," from 2013's Nuit 17 à 52 EP, the diminutive Letissier cut a crisp, powerful figure in her simple black suit and choreography that evinced the influence of both Michael Jackson and contemporary dance. Backed by a two-piece band and a pair of dancers, Letissier betrayed no jitters, her fluid, expressive moves projecting strength and packing a surprisingly hefty emotional intensity. After acknowledging the Toronto setting with a line from Drake's "Know Yourself" (she later sang several bars from "Hold On We're Going Home"), Letissier introduced Chaleur humaine's "iT" by explaining in unbroken English that she had "decided to be a little boy. A dancing little boy."
While her lyrics often thoughtfully address complex issues of gender, identity and insecurity, Letissier exuded confidence and charisma on the live stage, and her cathartic exhortations to dance to the syncopated beats of "Half Ladies," the Italo disco of "Science Fiction" — which closed with a sharp turn into several bars from 20 Fingers' "Short Dick Man" — or the infectious, house-inspired "Intranquillité (Dessassossego)" were impossible to resist.
The hour-long set touched on all of Chaleur humaine's high points ("Christine," "Saint Claude," "Narcissus is Back") and expertly showed off the wide range of the singer's influences: a reworked version of 2012's "Safe and Holy" featured proggy Alan Parsons Project keyboards and a searing guitar solo that hinted at the sound of '80s TV soundtracks, and her cover of Christophe's '70s masterpiece "Paradis perdus" seamlessly interpolated a few choruses from Kanye West's "Heartless."
When she stepped into the audience during the closing "Nuit 17 à 52," it felt as much an acknowledgement of the Toronto crowd's rapturous reception as a victory lap. Make no mistake about it — if her dazzling Toronto debut is anything to go by, it shouldn't be long before Christine and the Queens becomes a household name well beyond the francophone world.