The Thriller video meets West Side Story with covers and fireworks
Another year, another raft of British festival line-ups featuring more testosterone than the bar queue at a Kasabian gig. Here in Barcelona, however, the the team behind Primavera Sound are doing things differently, committing to progressive programming with a 50:50 gender split, and producing one of the best bills of the summer in the process. “The New Normal” they’re calling it – the branding is everywhere across the Parc del Fòrum – boldly redefining booking standards for themselves and hopefully everyone else.
There can be few better figureheads for the manifesto than gender-queer pop polymath Héloïse Letissier, AKA Christine and the Queens. Commandeering the first prime slot on the Primavera stage on Thursday (still to come there’s Miley Cyrus, Janelle Monáe, J Balvin, Carly Rae Jepsen), Letissier raises the bar for performers from the get-go with her pyrotechnic-powered entrance. Emerging from the centre of her circle of dancers, she despatches a thrilling one-two of ‘Comme si’ and ‘Girlfriend’ from 2018’s self-produced second album Chris, the songs’ retro funk flavour accentuated by Michael Jackson-meets-West Side Story choreography.
“We are Christine and the Queens, but you can just call me Chris now,” Letissier announces to cheers, her androgynous transformation completed by a billowing red shirt and close-cropped hair. It’s mesmerising to witness the chemistry between her and her six supporting dancers throughout, their tough yet balletic interactions alternately communicating conflict and desire. It’s testament to the show’s slickness, too, that when the lighting rig drops suddenly in a shower of sparks, it’s unclear whether it’s deliberate drama or a set malfunction.
Letissier straddles the suspended rig for Chaleur Humaine ballad ‘Saint Claude’, which she introduces as a song she wrote for an extraordinary-looking man who she saw being persecuted on the streets of Paris. “I thought he was sublime but I was not brave enough to defend him, so I decided to go home and write a song about that weird beauty,” she explains, adding to cheers, “Fuck the norm.”
Though Letissier has always proudly worn her influences on her sleeve, tonight she spells it out for any stragglers, dropping Janet Jackson’s ‘Nasty’ at the end of ‘Damn (what must a woman do)’, interpolating Luniz’s ‘I Got 5 On It’ into the opening of ‘Paradis Perdu’ and improvising a delicate rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ a capella. On the strength of performances like these, there’s a sense she’ll be fulfilling a similarly inspirational role for future generations.
Follow all of Loud And Quiet’s 2019 Primavera Sound coverage.
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