Christine and the Queens has been through some changes. The French artist lost his mother in 2019, an experience of loss channelled on songs like ‘People I’ve been sad’. Embracing masculine pronouns, Chris then became Redcar, with self-produced new project ‘Redcar les adorables étoiles’ unshackling itself from the glossy synth-pop perfection of his first two albums.
Two nights in Paris followed, with Redcar presenting a Freudian dreamscape. The move seemed to bemuse and entertain fans in equal measure, an enforced delay due to an unfortunate knee injury having propelled anticipation still further.
Tonight, Redcar makes his London bow. The city is integral to his aesthetic and personal evolution, with youthful experiences alongside drag queens in Soho cabaret bars illustrating his flimsy and restrictive normative ideas of gender actually are. Indeed, there’s a healthy dose of camp humour throughout tonight’s show, the sugar that perhaps helps the medicine go down.
Let’s get this out the way first: Redcar isn’t an easy watch. Aspects of Christine and the Queens’ pop-alien approach still linger, but the approach has been fragmented, atomised. In its stead, a new mosaic has been built, one that moves between loss and survival, heaven and hell, religion and the profane. At times inspired, it’s also incredibly confusing; a kind of Baz Luhrmann traipse through his sub-conscious, it feels more successful as a gesture, than as an actual artefact.
The music, though, and the vocals in particular, remains exquisite. Chris / Redcar is simply a terrific vocalist, his ability to sell a song – even one in a language that passes much of the Anglophone audience by – is peerless. As a result, the material on sketch-like recent album ‘Redcar les adorables étoiles’ appears bolstered, injected with a potent directness.
Emerging onstage in a dress to the strains of ‘Ma bien aimee bye bye’, Redcar pirouettes around the stage, gradually removing the garment, a rejection of the feminine. A staging that plays with notions of gender, much of the more powerful aspects thrive on subtlety – a sequence in which Redcar performs in a bathroom, for example, appears to nod towards North Carolina’s bathroom bill.
Where the set falters, however, is by grappling with larger concepts. No context is supplied to this strange, Jungian trip through the theatrical – a television onstage displays the Virgin Mary, then switches to a 1960s basketball game. A red statue of the Archangel Michael is rolled out, then pushed to stage left. Heavenly spirits are shown on a screen above the singer, but the longed-for ascension never quite transpires. It’s visually arresting, but never quite hangs together as a narrative.
Perhaps that’s damning with faint praise, however. It is – by any standards – dazzling. Indeed, Redcar’s transformation – slicked back hair, black tailored suits, a red glove on his right hand – puts Clash in mind of Nick Cave, rock’s most formidable Old Testament voice. Closing by venturing into the audience, Redcar teases the crowd, plays with the security staff, and takes time to thank virtually everyone in the building. Amid the dense intermingling of cerebral reference points, Redcar’s innate magic for connection remains.
Words: Robin Murray
Photo Credit: Gaëlle Beri