An electric night with Perfume Genius at Gorilla is as compelling as it is powerful, writes Alex Corns
Gorilla, 3rd November
There is something inherently sensual about Mike Hadreas, a.k.a. Perfume Genius. It isn’t just the way he sashays across the stage with the confrontational sass of a prime boxer, nor is it the fragile and tainted figure he cuts in songs like ‘Dark Parts’, in the self-confessed “quieter songs” section of the night.
Throughout the night, he seems almost not to be the sole source of his music, but rather a lightning rod, summoning the ethereal sounds from another place entirely and then unleashing them upon his audience with a fervour that dares you not to be overwhelmed, not to embrace what he is offering you.
And what he offers, it is hard to deny, lives up to the attitude it is presented with. Songs like ‘Wreath’ and ‘Otherside’ — a slow-burning tune which opens the night, building from a solitary piano solo to a ferocious instrumental crescendo — from his latest album No Shape, are launched upon the audience with an uncompromising boldness.
Whilst his lyrics are obviously relatable to many, every song seems highly personal. It is as if the audience is watching him experience his music, and lines like “You need me / Rest easy / I’m here / How weird” in the ballad ‘Alan’ — a song written in tribute to his band-member and long-term boyfriend — whilst not particularly insightful lyrically, are undeniably beautiful to witness. The feeling behind the song is so genuine that, when sung, it gives the impression of total spontaneity.
This is the paradox of Hadreas: between songs, he comes across as unfortunately timid, often seeming embarrassed by the applause he deservedly receives, and barely engaging in any dialogue with the audience, perhaps preferring to let his lyrics do the talking.
What is also startling with his live performance is that he can go from the funky and irrepressibly catchy ‘Just Like Love’ to the acoustic ‘Normal Song’ involving a serene moment almost spoilt by a singular loud talker in the audience, until they were gently shushed by the more appreciative majority, to what is essentially a rock song in ‘Grid’; and then back again to a heart-warming piano duet with Alan, of which the main attraction — likely intentionally — is his “lover’s” magnificent piano-playing.
In the midst of this, we are treated to a brooding cover of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s ‘Body’s in Trouble’ which is excitedly received.
There are songs that don’t quite lend themselves to live performance: ‘Die 4 You’ struggles to remain enthralling, whilst a cover of Big Star’s ‘Holocaust’ seems to end just as it is about to get going.
These hiccups, however, are forgotten as soon as he gets to the night’s closing track: the fearsome ‘Queen’, which gives one final burst of energy to the evening. The infamous line “No family is safe / When I sashay” is as glorious as ever when deployed live, and Hadreas, with performances like this, will be certain to keep everyone’s attention.