Perfume Genius – The Kings Arms 20 February 2015

Who looks like Doogie Howser, sings like Patti Smith, croons like Chris Martin and tore up the stage like an avant-garde hurricane at the Kings Arms last night? Seattle musician Mike Hadreas, AKA Perfume Genius, that’s who – and next time he comes to Auckland he’s sure to be playing on a bigger stage.

The velvet curtain backdrop is illuminated by purple lights as the backing band takes the stage. The sound of dark, rolling drums fills the air and Hadreas bursts out to the cheers of well-dressed, indie crowd.

Hadreas eyes up the audience like a wild animal before taking the mic and launching into a perfect light falsetto that floats effortlessly over the tribal drums. It’s a fitting start to a spell-binding evening, which is a tour of Hadreas’s beautiful heart and his twisted mind.

Hadreas takes to his keyboard for his beautiful heart songs, paring the music back and captivating the audience with his hushed tones. Although they’re gorgeous pieces, it’s when Hadreas unleashes his twisted mind that things get really interesting. It’s during these songs that instruments seem to scream, the bass is so intense it blows the hair off your face, the backing singers offer up heavenly harmonies and a bewitching, sexy madness fills the air.

With lyrics that delve into the inner anxieties that generally remain unspoken, Hadreas provides the audience with a glimpse into his dark side that is at once utterly abstract and totally relatable.

Many of the songs are short – more like captured ideas or brief meditations than top 40 hits. They’re real and raw, and you get the feeling you’re in the presence of a genuine artist.

The musicians tease the full range of emotions from their instruments. At times the scampering keys are as playful and bittersweet as Bambi running through the forest. At other times brutal sound effects are used to describe primal fears and emotions.

Hadreas invokes Prince, Annie Lennox and Trent Reznor throughout the set. With shades of Queens of the Stone Age, David Bowie and The Dresden Dolls, and hints of the Twin Peaks soundtrack, Hadreas has taken the musical canon and distilled it into something new, intense and compelling.

It’s an intimate show from an artist on the cusp of the big-time. With any luck, we’ll be able to experience the full Perfume Genius stage show at Vector Arena sometime soon.

– Kathryn van Beek

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Tim Armstrong:

Perfume Genius set list:
1. My Body
2. Take Me Home
3. Longpig
4. Lookout, Lookout
5. 17
6. Body’s In Trouble
7. Grid
8. Thing
9. Fool
10. No Good
11. Sister Song
12. Learning
13. Dream
14. Hood
15. Floating Spit
16. All Waters
17. Rusty Chains
18. Queen
19. Mr Peterson
20. All Along
21. Bright Eyes
22. Katie