In a recent interview with DigBoston, Mike Hadreas, the moniker of Perfume Genius, said, “When I first started writing for this record, I realized I had a lot more limitations and insecurities I thought I had. I thought I could only write in a certain way, sing in a certain range, and play so much on the piano. I couldn’t fit into it. So I started to shake off that bullshit.” And he pushed his limits fearlessly on Friday night, when he performed at The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA. The stop was just one in a very lengthy tour, that ends with Hadreas appearing at Coachella, Primavera, and Pitchfork Music Festival well into July. However, on March 20th, Perfume Genius sounded and looked as fresh and rejuvenated as ever.
Opening the show was a one-of-a-kind performance by Jenny Hval, a Norwegian singer and musician. Hval is a very particular performer, who defies the old-school notion that no music is original anymore. Her band consisted of two other members, one who seemed to be solely in charge of the electronics, and one who was a performance artist and videographer. The guy in charge of the music, stood behind a desk that was layered with wires, pedals, fake flowers, some portable air-humidifiers, and small bananas. At the forefront of the stage sat a rectangular screen that projected video-work, half of which was from a live feed of Hval herself, or a pre-recorded experimental video, involving a woman sexually enjoying chains, toilet paper, and egg yolk.
Typically a first opening act is half-paid attention towards, while late arrivals are still coming in, ordering drinks, and chatting. However, Hval captured the audience in an unusual way, stopping them and pummeling them with a truly unique and bewildering show. It was one of those shows where everyone was looking around at the people next to them, as if they were trying to discern what they were watching, and how others were reacting to it.
Hval’s incredibly piercing vocals, her complex nature, and her mind-boggling performance really set-up the mood for the oddity that is Perfume Genius. On stage, Hadreas summed up the dynamic between the two acts poignantly: “I feel like Jenny comes in and destroys you, and then I come in to soothe you – and then destroy you, again.” Their pairing is a really interesting dynamic of destroy/rebuild that sets them apart from the preconceived notion of what a concert experience is.
After previously seeing Perfume Genius twice, I was taken aback by his exuberance and his ability to command the stage effortlessly. It felt like Hadreas had a newly found swagger that didn’t prevent him from letting out his emotions and performing as if he was singing along in his room. At one point, Hadreas even remarked, “I’m usually a very shy person, but, for some reason, I don’t feel that way tonight.” His confidence shined through on “My Body,” the brash cover of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “Body’s In Trouble,” and on his newly released b-side from Too Bright, “Thing.” In fact, Hadreas’ high energy and commanding presence was felt even on his more toned down and delicate work.
As Hadreas ended his set, it was very clear how quickly Hadreas could switch outfits, change facades, and alter moods in the room. Right before, he had the audience moving and singing along to the queer-anthem “Queen,” and then he quickly tore them down with the beginning few notes of “Mr. Peterson.” The whole night was incredibly up-and-down in terms of feelings and emotions, which kept the concert feeling very freeform and oddly spiritual, as if no one else would ever experience this type of show again.
Throughout the night, Hadreas felt very in the moment and treating each song like its own entity. He even forgot how his set ended, and wound up coming back twice, because he was going through his current emotions on stage and didn’t even think about sticking to his exact setlist. In fact, maybe in the near future, Hadreas won’t need a setlist to keep him on track; he was at his peak when he was so intimately involved in the music that the audience, in a way, disappeared.
For a few moments throughout the show, we got to experience Hadreas in his natural, raw form. He was dressed in black heels, fishnets, red lipstick, red nails, and a long Betty Boop t-shirt that border-lined on more of a nightgown than a performance outfit, and it was the perfect combination of sincerity and intimacy.