A picture is worth a thousand words they say, but with just a few words Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, painted some strikingly vivid pictures on his debut album Learning. The record is an open wound; startling accounts of despair, longing, loneliness, regret, sexual exploration and death. Accounts relayed, not in obtuse poetry, but everyday language. Choice words that ring with clarity, “He let me smoke weed in his truck / If I could convince him I love him enough” (‘Mr. Peterson’). And this directness is delivered with nerve-riddled frailty, by someone who sounds worryingly unwell almost. Thankfully Hadreas isn’t the sun-starved sickly creature that his record suggests, but rather bright-eyed in fact. He is however, a bag of nerves.
Opening with ‘Perry’, Mike is accompanied by Alan Wyffels on synths and added keys. Though you’d imagine Hadreas alone on stage would be vulnerable enough, having accompaniment seems to underscore it even more. Immediately their rapport is key to the performance, with glances and nods Alan gives assurance and encouragement. On a more practical level he prompts Mike as to what song he supposed to be playing. More than once. In fact pretty frequently. Let’s be clear about this, Mike’s nerves aren’t the faux tortured-artist type, nor are they face-smackingly pathetic. They are the giggly nerves of youth, charming and endearing, which is just as well given the material.
Each song serves a devastating blow. Tales of murder (‘Look Out, Look Out’), broken homes (‘Write To your Brother’), sorrow (‘Won’t B Here’) and crying, lots of crying. Mike explains how one new track is not about crying, saying “it’s ok to [cry], but not all the time”, before introducing another that is explicitly about crying. Fans of Learning are going to be thrilled with the next Perfume Genius album. The new material is just as dark, but maybe less fragile; somehow weightier with resonance. ‘Normal Song’, the only guitar-led of the night, tells that “no violence can darken the heart”, while another recounts the story of a “tampered boy”.
Hadreas’ voice is solid. He sings with a textured quiver, but it is unwavering and strong, rounded by subtle harmonies and tense backing singing. Piano keys are supported by synthesized flutes and glassy orchestra waves. Sharing a keyboard and mic for ‘Learning’, the intimacy between the pair on stage was almost unnerving, like we shouldn’t be watching, but it was equally stunning so we couldn’t but.
Returning to stage for an encore, Hadreas is alone. He plays two gorgeous and very brief new tunes. Every song played was brief. Not much more than a verse/chorus/verse. Rarely did any go over two minutes – 15 in only 40-odd minutes – but there’s good reason for this brevity. There is such intensity of emotion poured into each tale, ripping at that wound, if they were any longer there would have been blood on the stage.
Photo by Damien McGlynn.