Decked out in a wide brown suit and a tank top, Mike Hadreas (aka Perfume Genius) looked right at home on the stage for his livestream concert on September 19 from Los Angeles’ Palace Theater. You might even have trouble believing that this was his first show since releasing his acclaimed fifth album, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, back in May. Despite having never performed many of these tracks in front of audience (virtual or otherwise), Hadreas and his accomplices – a string section and a full band, including his partner and collaborator Alan Wyffels on keyboards and Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy on guitar – pulled off a beautiful, rousing set. Skulking around the haze from the smoke machine, Hadreas and company came off like the pros they clearly are.
One of the set’s most sublime moments came early, when the gritty distortion of “Describe” gave way fluidly, seamlessly, to the propulsive “Wreath”, a highlight from his previous record, No Shape. The band lent various lovely harmonies to the song’s climactic ululations, with Hadreas belting it out to the rafters. The gentle respite of “Valley” followed, reminding us quickly how adept Hadreas is at the simple heartbreaker, despite all the theatrics he loves to bask in.
Hadreas channeled that pathos, that emotional current throughout the set. He’s the rare performer who seems to have one leg in the human world, with all of us watching him, and the other submerged in the song, communicating from some ethereal plane of pure feeling.
The songs sounded gorgeous in a live setting, to the point where it truly reiterates how sad it is that we can’t all be in the same space together to enjoy it. Luckily, the set was mixed and mic’d flawlessly, each note of each instrument coming in clearly, never overwhelming each other, and Hadreas’s voice pierced through it all, clear as a bell. The filming was excellent as well, the various cameras never feeling intrusive or clumsily handled, catching the set from multiple angles, often sauntering around the stage like an invisible onlooker. At the end, we even got a dramatic split screen of Hadreas grabbing his blazer and walking out while his band played on.
The set wove easily from vibe to vibe, too, keeping things engaging with an inspired sequencing. The baleful “Jason” led into the funky “Fool” from 2014’s Too Bright, further signified by Hadreas slinking off his blazer. Even that song’s middle section – which sounds like some sort of angelic or ghostly transmission – was pulled off without a hitch. The sugary 80s flare of “On the Floor” somehow sounded even better live, with each member of the band providing backing vocals.
Older songs like “Hood” sounded great with their additional instrumentation and a kicked-up power from Hadreas. They mixed in well with the newer material, the band giving us incredibly full and layered renditions of tracks like “Whole Life” and “Nothing At All”. The gnarly “My Body” was another highlight, with its nasty, scuzzy swagger coming to vivid life, replete with a bloody scream from Duffy.
Watching the band perform these songs with such commitment and precision, it was easy to ignore the lack of an audience. They were playing their hearts out to the virtual world, a sea of faceless spectators, eager to see one of indie music’s best duke it out for the first time in months onstage. The strings sounded especially lovely, adding a velveteen weight to many of the songs. Even the lighting team was nailing it the whole way through.
And to see Hadreas perform with such gusto, such confidence, it’s amazing to think back to the time when his shows consisted of little more than him at a piano, singing his quiet tearjerkers in a quavering voice. Now, he’s bold, coming off much more comfortable in his skin both as a human being and as an artist. In fact, he only took to the piano once, for an impossibly tender and moving rendition of “Alan”.
Over his past few releases, he’s leaned into his adventurous spirit, really finding his voice, and you could see it during every minute of today’s show. It’s exciting to see the result of a decade of growth, and that is exactly what we saw from this set, through to the climactic “Queen” closing us out. It was truly something to behold.
PS. After the show, Hadreas went back to his roots, so to speak, and performed a solo piano encore. He started with a lovely cover of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”. He then went onto deep cut fan favorite “Dreeem”, and then “Learning”, joined by Wyffels on the piano bench, the closeness of their relationship palpable as Hadreas sang. Finishing up with Put Yr Back N 2 It’s gorgeous and hushed “Normal Song”, with an understated harmony from Duffy, was the perfect, melancholy cherry on top.
Your Body Changes Everything Without You Describe Wreath Valley Jason Fool On the Floor Hood Alan Whole Life Slip Away Otherside Some Dream Nothing at All One More Try My Body Queen
Fade Into You (Mazzy Star cover) Dreeem Learning Normal Song