Perfume Genius at the Mod Club19 May 2017 / by Jennifer Hyc (author)
Fresh off the release of his highly-praised fourth album No Shape, Perfume Genius’ set on Thursday night was as dynamic as his discography is diverse. The show had sold out well before the release of his new album, and since then, Mike Hadreas’ media exposure has been nothing short of feverish, and rightly so. I was looking forward to seeing how the new material would transition into a live setting.
Kicking off the night with an enigmatic performance from Serpentwithfeet, the packed room was quickly fixated, with only the sound of the venue’s bartenders clanging in the background as the softer moments hung. A welcome parallel to the romantic themes of the night’s headliners with just a bit more soulful melisma, the performance was strong from the get-go.
Gliding onstage to a warm welcome and the orchestral frenzy that is “Choir”, Mike Hadreas was clad in a pinstripe jumpsuit frayed across his chest and a flouncy white blouse. “Choir” soon transitioned into “Otherside”, the stellar opening track off of No Shape that serves as a clear-cut example of his musical transformation from stripped, painstaking piano balladeer to an explosive ascension at the end of each verse. To faithfully replicate those glistening climaxes in a live setting may have been a bit much to ask for, especially given the Mod Club’s recent reputation of butchering sound. In this case, the bass was heavier than I would have liked and more muffled to give the new songs any justice, but that was no surprise going into the night.
Crafting a set list that could flow seamlessly was another challenge, given the stark sonic differences between each of Perfume Genius’ four albums. At times, transitions between songs felt too abrupt, or the energy of one song’s performance would be lost entirely moving into the next. Outright silent transitions were few, as Hadreas occasionally chimed in with his unconventional humour. Although he expressed few words at a time, his comments were bitingly clever and blunt.
“I could play for about an hour and get through, like, fifty songs”, Hadreas joked early on in his set. He certainly managed to play all of the audience’s favourites in that allotted hour, like 2014’s “Grid” off of his third album Too Bright, a dark and arresting tune that eclipsed into frantic screaming and wild dancing. “Die 4 You” was a stark contrast as No Shape’s sexy and slow-burning second single, before ending the pre-encore set with his celebratory and anthemic “Slip Away”. Upon returning to the stage, Hadreas powered through older piano-based stunners like “Hood” and “Learning”, the latter accompanied by his keyboardist and long-time partner Alan Wyffels, who served as the bulk of the inspiration behind No Shape. Once the tenderness had subsided, the night was capped off with 2014’s hit and by-far most requested track, “Queen”. Based off the energy in the room, it was as if every queer-identifying audience member was screaming back the seminal lyric, “No family is safe when I sashay”, making for as strong of a finish as one could imagine. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, what Perfume Genius accomplishes in his live act, but the release is well worth the ride.