When: Fri., May 19, 8:30 p.m. 2017
As Perfume Genius, Mike Hadreas largely crafts autobiographical songs based on his experiences as a gay man who's struggled with bullying, insecurity, and substance abuse. His songwriting became a means for both coping with and processing the significant experiences that he's survived. With a penchant for whispered, painful lyrics and simple piano-driven instrumentation, Perfume Genius's first two albums are especially soft, intimate, and melancholic. But overall, the Seattle native's dark yet comforting music also reminds his many listeners that they're not alone.
Hadreas has largely recovered from his past addiction and despair, and 2014's Too Bright marked the beginning of his emergence from the darkness. With a more confident lyrical presence and bolder experiments with instrumentation, the album is accessible even to those for whom the more personal details may not resonate. Take "Queen" for example, a direct, robust-sounding anthem confronting a public fear of gayness (Hadreas's and in general). With Too Bright, Hadreas began opening up to the possibility of something bigger and brighter.
So it makes sense that that Perfume Genius's newest release, No Shape, is the mounting crescendo toward which Hadreas has been building. The album merges his deeply personal feelings with weirdly gratifying sonic exploration, creating a listening experience that feels both slightly disjointed and comfortable.
The details of No Shape vary across the spectrum of sound. While some tracks maintain Hadreas's delicate piano tendencies, others are lush and full of different sounds, ranging from elegant strings to smooth, jazzy themes to explosive percussion. Hadreas's creative expansion on No Shape feels boundless, with tracks like "Slip Away" and "Wreath" ringing triumphantly. On the album's slower second half, "Braid" and "Alan" gently flow along, the latter a plausible tribute to Hadreas's long-term partner, who is a frequent collaborator, supporter, and tour mate.
In performance, Hadreas continues to gain confidence, no longer quietly staying behind the piano and instead commanding the stage, albeit with an air of passiveness. Audiences familiar with Perfume Genius know to expect authenticity and a strong personal conviction, coupled with glam theatrics and moments of unpredictability. Quiet, loud, or anywhere in between, a Perfume Genius show is intimate and provocative, always inviting listeners to come closer and feel vulnerable, if only for the moment. Serpentwithfeet opens. —Elizabeth Byrum
Price: $17 - $19