The first time I saw Perfume Genius live I was a little surprised (but mostly endeared) by the timid stage presence of Mike Hadreas. His last album, Too Bright, was well known for the decisively un-timid power ballad, “Queen.” But as I got to better understand Perfume Genius, the artist, I loved him just as much for his on-stage awkwardness and borderline stage-fright as I did for his luscious, glamorous music.
While perfume Genius is capable of pop bangers and wild electronic composition, he is just as well known for his vulnerable, bare-bones confessionals, like “Normal Song.”
That being said, Perfume Genius’ show at 9:30 Club revealed an artist who is finally coming out of his shell. Hadreas puts on a vibrant and powerful show, exhibiting his fantastic new album, No Shape. It was clear that Hadreas is more proud and comfortable with his music than ever before. He seemed genuinely elated to perform the lead single, “Slip Away,” and nearly lost himself in the thundering drums and exhilarating crescendos. Other songs like “Wreath,” which feature a few seconds of tasteful yodeling on the record, were stretched live out to indulge his showmanship and provide a bigger catharsis.
And yet all of this was still interposed with moments of endearing hesitation. Hadreas still spent most of the show next to his partner, collaborator, and keyboardist Alan Wyffels, often checking in on how he’s feeling or asking him to re-adjust his billowing shirt. The highlight of the show was the encore, which featured Hadreas performing a solo rendition of the album’s closer “Alan,” a simple love song about unexpected peace and complacency after years of struggle. He was then joined by Wyffels, and the two performed Perfume Genius’ older material sitting side by side. It seemed like an homage to the early days of the project, before highly-acclaimed material, regular paychecks and dazzling 9:30 Club shows.
Perfume Genius is coming out of its shell as a project, but Hadreas and Wyffels remain impressively grounded. It’s like having our glamorous, emotionally-complex cake and eating it too.