Perfume Genius Dazzles with Struts, Slides and an Unmistakable Croon

Perfume Genius – Odlins Plaza March 13, 2018

Seattle’s alternative-pop star Perfume Genius played his first of two consecutive Wellington dates in majestic fashion, fusing well-written pop with experimental elements and a visually arresting performance. The venue was the picturesque and cosy circular pop-up tent (“tent” is somewhat of a reductive term in this instance) standing down on the warm Wellington waterfront and filled to capacity with fans of a wide range of ages.

Starting punctually at 7:00, Perfume Genius, a.k.a. Mike Hadreas, took to the stage accompanied by a three-piece band, (drums, keyboards, bass/guitar). They opened with Otherside, the first track from last year’s No Shape, the album that has significantly boosted his fame internationally. It began with delicate twinkling piano and some beautiful high crooning vocals, before out of nowhere the band unleashed a seismic blast of noise, one monstrous chord, that if you weren’t familiar with the recording was an effective surprise. Hadreas bent over backwards, arms aloft in a dramatic pose, and the evening was properly underway.

The visual aspect was clearly a significant part of his stage show, donning sparkling heeled boots and what can only be described as a Victorian crop-top. Hadreas is an enthralling performer to watch, a quality that greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the set. The slender figure spent most of the time embodying the groove of the music in his shoulder-wiggling, hip-sliding and his gravity-defying backwards bends, rapping the microphone cord around his body. He also has a strut to put Mick Jagger to shame. Much like the music his dancing was openly theatrical and dramatised, yet never seemed forced or put-on but rather a part of his being.

That’s not to say this entertaining physical element was any kind of compensation for a musical deficiency. From start to finish Hadreas’ voice was stunning, ranging from beautiful crooning highs to a powerful operatic lower register, via the occasional piercing surprise scream. It’s a voice full of expression, as are the emotive facials that accompany it and become part of the vocal delivery in a similar way to his kiwi collaborator Aldous Harding (the two share a bill tomorrow night in Auckland.)

The music was hard to define, fusing well-structured melodic keyboard-based pop with moments of noisy abrasive experimentation. The strong influence of classic soul-pop and r’n’b could also be heard, in tracks like Fool and Just Like Love. Most of the songs involve many regular musical changes and transitions, going through grooving rhythms to a sudden stripping-back to just vocals and synth, to a moment of noisy textural playing and back around again. These regular changes kept things interesting for most of the performance.

However the first truly special moment for me came ten songs in with a cover of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s Body’s In Trouble, a moody droning piece sung by Hadreas in a deep powerful voice full of drama. The next track, My Body was also a stand-out, developing from a minimalist pulse into a brilliant wash of noise, overwhelming bass feedback and vocals treated with over-the-top distortion.

There were often lengthy gaps of silence between songs as Hadreas rearranged his microphones but it only seemed to make it more intimate than it already was in this tiny venue. At one point the soft-spoken musician joked about having wanted to enter on wires through the hole in the tent roof.

For an encore Hadreas performed two pieces alone at the piano, including a cover of Big Star’s Kangaroo, and then one as a seated piano duet with the keyboard player and yet another with two keyboards. Though he sung them beautifully and emotively, the simple ballad approach did a lot less for me than the fleshed-out full band pieces. So I was glad when, after four piano ballads that really began to drag, the rest of the band returned to the stage, and, after the power-ballad Hood, Hadreas once again took the mic in hand to finish up with the energetic crowd-pleasing Queen.

Perfume Genius is a captivating performer who truly dedicates his entire self to his vocal, musical, and physical delivery. On top of that his meddlings with that loose term “pop” are musically intriguing and find a sweet spot between popular accessibility and interesting experimentation. Though the set was only a short hour and a half it left me more than satisfied, and, judging by the conversations I heard while leaving the venue, fans more familiar with his work than me were also buzzing about it.

Ruben Mita.

Just Like Love
Go Ahead
Normal Song
Dark Parts
Body’s In Trouble (Mary Margaret O’Hara cover)
My Body
Run Me Through
Die 4 You
Slip Away

Kangaroo (Big Star cover)
Mr. Peterson

Want to learn more about Perfume Genius? We did an interview with him last year. Click here to read or listen to it.

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