Somewhere in the middle of the set, between the fragile recollections of Perfume Genius, I thought about why on earth I own Atom Egoyan’s movie The Sweet Hereafter. Briefly, the movie revolves around a very small Canadian town that copes with the aftermath of a tragic school bus accident that killed numerous schoolchildren of the town, leaving parents in various states of grief. It may be the most heart-wrenching movie ever made, and is a beautiful ordeal to get through. I saw it in theaters and purchased it soon after it was released on DVD and it’s still sitting among my other movies opened but unwatched. I have no idea why I own this movie, or why I’d ever want to watch it again.
Watching Mike Hadreas perform, there was a similar feeling akin to watching any number of depressing movies. You know that there is pathos occuring and you’re waiting to see how it’s going to affect you, how open you plan on being, how much you’re willing to co-opt his pain, whether you’re willing to have a catharsis, whether you’re going to shut down in favor of something easier. This isn’t exactly your standard night at the rock bar or even at the coffee shop.
From their inauspicious stage entrance to their equally abrupt stage exit through the crowd a short while later, Hadreas and boyfriend Alan Wyffels performed like an Egoyan movie on stage, something so traumatic you wondered why you were even here in the first place. But for those committed to the concert, it was something of a beautiful ordeal for those 35 minutes.
Hadreas showcased his debut LP, Learning, breaking the ice with “Lookout, Lookout”. He winces when he sings, squeezing out each syllable as a confession. Or maybe it’s like a reluctant admission. You know that choke that hits your voice before you say something to someone you know they don’t want to hear? That tiny, emotional, glottal stop preceded many lyrics and plucked at my stupid heart strings.
I was in awe for the first four songs. Hadreas picked out a little waltz on guitar which may have been the saddest moment of the night as he eked out the words “violence can tear it apart”. This was juxtaposed minutes later with the tenderest, loving moment of the evening when the two sat like lovers on the same piano bench and sang “Lake Vue Gardens” which only amplified the already volatile emotional current at Schubas.
But for all of this, like The Sweet Hereafter, I eventually became exhausted. I could only listen to those pained lyrics about his storied past for so long. Hadreas wasn’t pretentious or masturbatory on stage. He was kind, selfless, and connected to his work. He’s shy, and even has a little banter here and there and can poke fun at himself. But there’s no respite from the onslaught of maudlin lyrics and melancholy tunes and by the end, I was numb. The uber simplistic piano and his haunting voice — a mix between A. Hagerty, S. Stevens, and D. Johnston — was so aching and pitiful I almost had a panic attack.
It just needs a drum solo in the middle or something.
Honestly, though, the tiny unique moments of the evening were what made it memorable. The silence and attentiveness of the crowd, the patient stares exchanged between the two performers, the shivers that shook down me during “Mr. Peterson”, the natal eyes of Hadreas and his shifting expressions on his face all masking something, and the polite conversation I had with Mike after the show, now “out of character” and smiling and smoking on the street — all created a scene that demanded a lot from me, and for capitulating and welcoming the performance into my heart I am thankful.
Should you have the opportunity to go to a Perfume Genius show, which I highly recommend you do, get in the mindset of seeing like a play about a man who’s haltingly whispering his secrets and cautionary tales to you with uncomfortable honesty. But know it’s just a play, or a movie, and you choosing to watch it is also choosing to become involved and allow yourself to become apart of Hadreas’ past in some form. We don’t know why we go to these things, why we subject ourselves to this kind of art, but…we just do. And in the end, we don’t regret it.
Photography by Ryan Bourque.
[I tried to glance at the setlist from the stage, any help would be much appreciated]
Perfume Genius setlist:
Look Out, Look Out
You Wont Be Here
Lake Vue Gardens (??)
Back in to It (??)
Gallery by Ryan Bourgque