Perfume Genius emerges with a feral theatricality at Outside Lands

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Caroline Smith/Staff

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If there had to be one work to describe Perfume Genius, the stage name of Mike Hadreas, it might be “feral.” “Raw” is another close contender, but it seems too limiting, too focused on his work as a musician and a lyricist and not broad enough to encompass his movements or his presence onstage.

When Hadreas took over Friday afternoon at Outside Lands, he stood in a blue silk shirt and billowing black pants, moving back and forth with a gentle sway along the gentle piano melodies that open “Otherside,” the opener of his latest album, No Shape. His voice trembled, brimming with vulnerability. As the glittering majesty of the song’s chorus exploded behind him, guitars crescendoing alongside the still-soft piano, Hadreas began to writhe under its pressure, mouthing something indecipherable as he twisted the microphone around his body.

The moments when Hadreas stood front and center and sang out to the crowd plain and simple were few and far between. And when he did, these were truthfully some of the most boring moments of the show. It was when he meandered across the stage, twisting his body around every possible axis and moving with a brash unpredictability, that he shone as an artist. Some of his movements, such as when he gathered the microphone cord into his hands just to release it once more, may have felt purposeless, but that didn’t stop them from being wholly intriguing to watch.

For all his wild unpredictability, Hadreas wasn’t afraid to take moments to be gentle — or funny. “I’m going to do a more tender bop now. Soft bop. Baby bop,” he said, introducing “Valley.” He smirked. “Remember her? From ‘Barney’ ?” he asked.

The highlight of the set came with Hadreas’ cover of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “Body’s in Trouble.” Instrumental chaos galloped behind Hadreas’ vocals as he breathed heavily, clicked his tongue and screamed into the microphone. He lurched across the stage, moving between throaty bellows and breathy sing-songs. By the time he finished, it was hard to believe that the song hadn’t been his all along.

Perfume Genius’ flair for a feral theatricality followed him straight through to the end of his set. As he danced off the stage in his grand exit, his band stayed behind to play him off, the grandiose sounds of guitar reverb continuing to wash over the stage in his wake.

Sannidhi Shukla covers music. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @sannidhishukla.