Perfume Genius Sashays and Slays at Brooklyn Steel
On 2014’s Too Bright, Mike Hadreas brilliantly, and threateningly, declared “No family is safe when I sashay.” For his latest album, No Shape (Matador), Hadreas, who performs under the moniker Perfume Genius, took that essence in a bolder and more defiant direction while delving deeper into themes of gender identity, religion, and political injustice. Stripped-back piano pieces explode into brazen orchestra-esque outbursts; the music moves from rage to love, from menacing to raw.
But how would the enormity of the new material come to life on stage? And how could songs that have almost no conventional form or traditional hooks hold an audience in a live setting? It’s a huge challenge, especially for a four-person band that doesn’t rely on backing tracks.
Binaries with respect to dynamics proved to be key on Tuesday night (May 16), when the avant-pop artist performed a sold-out show at Brooklyn Steel. Just as the delicate piano notes of “Otherside” swept over the crowd, for example, the band suddenly hit hard enough to jolt the heart. You could literally feel your bones rumble when the heavily processed, but subdued, guitar of “Slip Away” gave way to a wall of sound comprised of blaring synths and crashing cymbals. For much of the show, when the music was loud, it was blunt, floor rumbling-loud -- uncomfortably loud, even. But the uneasiness brought out by that loudness, also created a chasm of contrast when Hadreas went into stripped-back tracks like “Die For You” and “Run Me Through.”
Visual elements nodded to the “in-betweens” that are central to Hadreas’ artistic identity. For nearly the entire set, he was swathed in light that wasn’t pink (feminine) or blue (masculine) -- but rather a deep violet born of both hues. He commanded the stage in a pinstripe jumpsuit evocative of Wall Street and white blouse that exposed one of his breasts like an ancient Amazonian warrior woman. If you weren’t close to the stage, the whole thing looked like a strapless black evening gown.
In a recent interview about the new music, Hadreas spoke of a time in his childhood when he sang and danced to Gloria Estefan songs oblivious to the notion of being judged for it or feeling shame. And while the majority of the 1,800-person room stood transfixed by the music, Hadreas slithered and (dare we say) sashayed with the jouissance he described. As the only one really letting loose to songs explosive and constrained, you couldn’t help but feel he was the King of Queens...and vice versa.