Think how much courage it must take to be a musician, to stand on a stage and put your entire self out there, to be judged every second for the way you stand and what you play or don’t play, the notes you hit or miss. Then think of Perfume Genius and double it. Because under this moniker frontman Mike Hadreas’ music stands alone; honest and stripped bare and absent of thrills, singing about abuse suffered and loves lost. He’s reminiscent of Leonard Cohen in his rawness but with Hadreas it’s all so much scarier because his voice is so breakable and his words so tender and honest. He performs on stage with his boyfriend, and on Tuesday at the Oobleck he did it in scarlet nail varnish and heels.
There’s something quite spiritual about the music of Mike Hadreas. You could term it a sermon if it were longer, but collectively their three albums barely breach the ninety minute mark and you’ll be hard pushed to find a Sunday visit so spright. Instead it’s songs like Put UR Back N2 It and Gay Angels that most purvey the essence of the divine, Hadreas repeating mantras and howls that appear at first formless but coalesce to something utterly mesmerising: the silence is a jolt when they’re over. His most sermon-like moments are when he sits behind his modest Yamaha keyboard, where his raw passion and vulnerability are most exposed. Mike has a fascinating face, one which truly opens up when he’s singing – like tracing paper creasing, his skin folds back over his teeth to betray barely-hidden pain or heartbreak or anger. His playing is quite simple, on some songs like the rhythm of a nursery rhyme, but the warm haze is just a backdrop for his impassioned vocals; coming from the Joanna Newsom school of delivery where every word is drawn from the back of his throat, like they’re being dragged up from deep below and clinging to him still. Hadreas must be one of the few singers in the business who, upon raising his head, is able to see the eyes of every audience member; for they’re all staring into his – transfixed and almost black in the lazuli lighting, often shining with the dampness of a tear.
On stage he was like a lizard, leering into the crowd and down unwelcome camera lenses – hands on hips and neck extended to a snake-ish length
Yes there was the odd ballad which didn’t hit quite as strong, specifically off his lo-fi debut Learning, but they were still performed with breath-taking sincerity. Comparatively, a trio of his songs from his latest LP were a bolt of lightning in the misty-eyed balladry of the evening’s rest; namely Grid, My Body and Queen. They simply cannot be performed sat behind the Yamaha, so Mike stands and pouts and struts; personifying a demonic femininity his recent music videos only half conveyed. On stage he was like a lizard, leering into the crowd and down unwelcome camera lenses – hands on hips and neck extended to a snake-ish length. The African drumbeats and compressed guitar strokes see the rest of the band at their liveliest, and Mike undergoes a transformation; screaming and cackling down the mic, at one point spitting, that fragile face cracked with strained veins. Queen best shows off the occasional boldness of the fragile performer as he struts and swings the microphone round his middle finger- which is exactly what he’s sticking up to his critics with this single- ‘no family is safe, when I sashay‘ he croons with a glint in his eye and a flash of mascara.
When they sat together to play ‘Learning’ their affection for one another was palpable, and through various touches on his back and glances at opportune moments, the romance in Hadreas’ lyrics was given direction
It’s lyrics like these that are so striking when delivered this intimately; while warm-up Mauvelle tried to blow the speakers, Perfume Genius teased them with poetry. The words of Mr Peterson, one of his best, were striking when delivered in person, the tale of a teacher who once groomed him and later jumped of a building culminating in ‘Mr Peterson, I know you were ready to go, I hope there’s room for you up above, or down below‘; the naivety in the delivery spoilt by a world of hurt on Hardreas’ face. It was during this song where Mike survived his only falter, slipping a key and taking a moment to sync with Alan Wyffels’ backing organ before resuming, visibly frustrated. That they could recoup together in this way though epitomises an on stage tension with this man, his boyfriend, which was the part of the performance which connected most. When they sat together to play ‘Learning’ their affection for one another was palpable, and through various touches on his back and glances at opportune moments, the romance in Hadreas’ lyrics was given direction. Ultimately this was what made the bands performance so endearing, because in the end his music isn’t about being gay, it’s about being in love.
How he has the strength of conviction then to stand on stage in heels and a businesswoman’s suit and not cow down to the stereotypes of those who mock him
Thank God then for Perfume Genius and their frontman’s courage. I had the pleasure of meeting Mike in the cafe beforehand and despite what convention may dictate, he seemed more nervous to speak to me than I was to him. How he has the strength of conviction then to stand on stage in heels and a businesswoman’s suit and not cow down to the stereotypes of those who mock him but turn them up to eleven is astounding. As a bisexual man it means a hell of a lot. More than one man in the crowd had adorned dresses for the show; how much it must mean to them also. And what it means to any fan of music; because the honesty and emotion of his ballads transcend sexuality, catering simply to soft hearts and good taste. Oh and he winked at me too, which was nice.
Liam Inscoe – Jones
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