It was with great enthusiasm that my fellow audience members and I welcomed Perfume Genius – dressed in a white tank top, tailored beige plaid pants with elaborate details on the knees connoting musketeer boots, shiny black semi high-heeled shoes and a thick fake gold chain around his neck – on stage in Slottsskogen on the second day of Way Out West, an annual three-day music and more festival held in the center of Gothenburg, Sweden. It was my first time attending a concert by Perfume Genius – whose music I have listened to with great pleasure for a few years now – so naturally I was exited.
Perfume Genius is the stage name for Tacoma-based artist Mike Hadreas. So far he has released four studio albums, all to great critical acclaim. His music is usually classified as indie or chamber pop and can be described as both introverted and extroverted. The former because some of Hadreas’ songs are quiet and have a quality that makes listening to them feel like taking part of a diary entry. The latter because other, also highly personal, songs of his are intricate and loud in a way that claims space and demands attention. Some songs are even all of the above, containing tentative passages as well as wonderful cacophony.
It didn’t take long before it was clear that Hadreas and his band had sound issues at Way Out West. There were quite a lot of grimacing and gesturing going on within the band and towards what could only be assumed to be sound technicians out of sight for the audience. I can’t say if it was due to the equally massive and annoying waves of sound coming from a nearby stage alone, or if the soundcheck preceding the gig also had left a bit to be desired. What I can say is that Hadreas and his band did the best they could given the situation and gave it their all during their hour on stage.
Two things struck me at this concert. The first: The man can dance! Not a beat was missed when Hadreas made his pole-dance-without-a-pole-esque moves. His ability to sensually squat in slow motion over and over again alone calls for admiration. Personally, I did however like it just as much when he temporarily dropped the act and smiled shyly. At those moments one could glimpse a vulnerable and lovable person behind the charismatic and confident stage persona. I wouldn’t have minded more of that.
The second thing that struck me: The man can sing! The melodies of Perfume Genius are challenging in a way that can force a less skilled singer in a live situation either to play it safe by decreasing the range or to sing out of tune. Hadreas did neither. Sure, he missed a word or two, but his voice carried all the way from the low whispers to the high screams that characterize his music. That was a delight.
Between the songs, Hadreas didn’t say much more than “thank you”. He didn’t even introduce his band, which I found a bit surprising. At one point he did however joke about all his songs being so short he can perform 30 of them even at a festival. A slight exaggeration, of course, but perfectly consistent with the truth. Unfortunately I didn’t have the presence of mind to count the number of songs, but we were treated with a great many. Among the highlights were “Longpig”, “Grid”, “Slip Away”, “Wreath”, and finally, “Queen”.
I can’t wait to see Perfume Genius live again, but next time I’d like it to be in a non-festival setting. That way the risk of interfering music from another artist’s performance would be cleared and there would be more time to perform even more songs from Perfume Genius’s superb discography. That would be great.