Perfume Genius is the creative vehicle of Mike Hadreas, under which he’s recorded two intimate and confessional albums. His lilting voice and tender words prove equally affecting whether delivered to you directly through headphone speakers or via amplified whispers to a packed-to-the-walls audience like Tuesday night at New York’s Mercury Lounge. They were joined by Portland, Oregon, outfit Parenthetical Girls, who made their return to New York after having their van robbed during their previous visit, but they didn’t let that bad experience stop them from putting on a captivating set.
Parenthetical Girls have to be seen. Lead singer Zac Pennington is a performer in the truest sense, constantly dancing, flailing, swinging mics, and pacing the stage like some warped, thrilling hybrid of Iggy Pop and Morrissey. His wild stage manner wasn’t even limited to the stage; throughout the set, he’d leap into the audience and continue singing amongst the crowd, making his way to the back of the audience, banging on every object along the venue’s perimeter with a drumstick, and at one point threatening to topple the keyboards, which got looped up in his lengthy mic cable. (The drummer was only slightly less mobile, circling his kit and leaping from his stool to pound an electric drum pad 10 feet away.) The front row of the audience barely seemed safe as cymbals and drumsticks were tossed about as noisemakers, but it kept you on your toes. The amount of pomp and bombast brought to performing the high-energy bit of chamber pop A Song for Ellie Greenwich was incredible. It was a riveting set and one entirely different from the one about to take the stage.
It would be hard for many acts to follow that, particularly ones that are so low-key, but the band cleared the stage to make way for Perfume Genius, whom Pennington had described earlier as a treat, a heartbreaking treat.
Mike Hadreas noiselessly slid onto a stool behind a keyboard center stage shortly afterward. The diminutive singer/songwriter, hailing from Seattle, expanded Perfume Genius to a three-piece on this tour in support of his celebrated new full-length, Put Your Back N 2 It. As Jeremy Larson described it in his CoS review of the record, There are exactly zero moments of thematic reprieve or levity on this album, and it’s hard to argue with that sentiment. Many of his songs lay bare the rough-and-tumbles of life and a painful adolescence. Though not always autobiographical, the moments his lyrics chronicle are often ones of melancholy, heartbreak, or embarrassment. However, as heavy as it all can be, it never feels without hope; so much of the music comes across as reflections on sadder times that the singer nevertheless was able to pull through. As gentle as his tenor carries, there’s strength in his words and resilience in his voice.
Opening with the ambient, dream pop soundscape of Gay Angels, Perfume Genius played a sharp and somber set, wrapping up 15 songs before even an hour had passed. The songs are somewhat stripped-down in the live setting; it’s little more than Hadreas and his two accompanists on keyboard and guitar. But it’s his voice that carries the song, particularly on a track such as Take Me Home, which was more embellished on the album. Keyboardist Alan Wyffels joined Hadreas at his electric piano for a duet on his debut’s title track, Learning.
The sold-out audience stood at attention throughout the set, careful to not even breathe too loud; their first utterances finally came near the end in the form of a few excited whoops when Hadreas hit the first resounding piano chords of Hood. Almost as quickly as it began, it was all over, but you’d have been hard-pressed to find one disappointed-looking face in the crowd.
Photography by Robert Kidd
Take Me Home