Perfume Genius Live
Tour support Parenthetical Girls engaged the audience with high-energy pop and rock, plus a borderline interpretive dance performance from frontman Zac Pennington. The Portland, Ore. (or "Ore-gon" as Pennington announced), quartet balanced the audience's anticipation for Perfume Genius' subdued sounds, keeping spirits high as Pennington launched himself into the audience for the New Wave-nuanced "Young Throats."
Ever conscious of ambiance, the set slowed toward the end with a warning from Pennington: "We're about to make you sad." Closer "Stolen Children" certainly cooled down the bombast, prepping Hadreas' famously intimate shows. Pennington spent his last song amongst the crowd, doling out hugs and descending the Lamberts staircase for an impromptu serenade of the diners down below. He ended abruptly, back at the merch booth with a sip of a beer and a smile.
Perfume Genius wasted no time easing the audiences into his soundscapes, launching the ambient sludge of "Gay Angels" with surprising facility. Perhaps a heavy choice to start, but as Hadreas squirmed on the piano bench, it provided a window to the rest of the night for both the performer and the audience: intimate to a fault – subject matter that's undeniably painful to process – but set against a lush musical backdrop that transports all involved to a dark, beautiful place. All of that, then a sweet, Texas-inspired greeting, "Thank y'all for coming."
Hadreas effectively turned the upscale venue into his living room. Despite his apparent discomfort with the spotlight, he played with his heart on his sleeve in chipped red nail polish. Maneuvering through the set, he kept dialoguing with fans while exchanging knowing glances with his boyfriend and backing keyboardist Alan Wyffels, taking technical difficulties in stride. When the guitar reverb on "Simple Song" halted him mid-performance, Hadreas noticed a front-row fan moved to tears and promised to return to the song eventually, apologizing for calling attention to it in the first place.
The bulk of Put Your Back N 2 It was covered during the hour-long set, peppered with favorites from 2010's Learning. The crowd seemingly had no collective favorite, each song inviting an elated cheer of someone who had anticipated that particular track. The doo-wop noir of songs like "Take Me Home" and "No Tear" translated best to a live setting, showcasing his reedy Sufjan Stevens-esque tenor. Wyffels joined Hadreas at the piano for a duet on "Learning," a tender moment in which the singer looked most at ease.
Though timid, Hadreas still expected a certain reverence from the audience, so when shouts from restaurant patrons below interrupted "Katie," finale of the two-song encore, he gently reminded them to, "Shut the fuck up down there!"
Perfume Genius' affect can be summed up by the young men who dived for set lists after Hadreas and Wyffels left the stage for the second time, the same young men who hugged the pair both times as they exited. Hadreas' has more than a chip on his shoulder. Try tear stains and a story to tell, one that everyone on some level can relate to and find solace in.
A Perfume Genius show isn't an exhibitionist rehashing of personal trauma. It's an outstretched hand to others.