Perfume Genius taps fibrous, phantasmagoric portal at The Fillmore

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Charlene Wang/Staff

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“I love a good American sip!” Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas quipped after taking a swig of water from an aluminum bottle onstage at The Fillmore. A few minutes later Hadreas launched into a performance of “Jason” — a track about a traumatic one night stand which he sang in a hazy, watercolor falsetto.

Such arcane comedic tidbits are not out of the ordinary for Hadreas, folding themselves into his art like stiff-peaked egg whites into an omelette — Hadreas, coincidentally, also loves “a little old-fashioned American egg.” He’s able to drop the schtick instantaneously as the soporific bassline in “Jason”  takes root, but the spastic, unhinged sentiment leaves an aftertaste. It’s deliciously weird to watch. 

The trailer he released for this tour features three men in thongs doing cat-cow poses over a gravelly voiceover where Hadreas monotonously intones the names of the cities he is slated to play. Despite a clear inclination toward Twitter-brained fervor, Hadreas has made a name for himself not through his trolling proclivities, but on the back of his maximalist songwriting that rebukes pleasantries and, instead, goes straight for the punch.

Onstage, Hadreas’ discography blooms. At times, what audiences experienced was more akin to performance art than a concert. Hadreas even armed himself with typical implements of performance artists: a chair bound by sinewy ropes and cords and a lengthy skein of gossamer white tulle. Though during the concert, he seemed to intermittently forget about the props, instead absconding into another realm. 

At other moments, Hadreas was hyper focused on these objects. His songs became even more tactile as he draped languidly over the chair, or enveloped himself in a cloud of tulle, evoking Charles Dickens’ dusty, yet similarly melodramatic Miss Havisham. Hadreas has been vocal in the past about his fixation with music’s corporeal faculties — the way it distends, distorts and amplifies emotion. He frequently opens his sets with “Your Body Changes Everything,” a thumping, sensuous tryst through sexual dichotomies: Masculine and feminine, harsh and soft.

Perfume Genius songs never have a dearth of emotion, but rather, an excess of it. Perhaps this is where Hadreas finds the need to invent an additional, somatic musical axis. Performing “Wreath,” he surrendered his measured vocals for throaty, entropic yodels. During “Some Dream,” he sang about “lick[ing] the day/ from some dream” while coiling the microphone cord around himself. 

In post-pandemic hindsight, licking the day (whatever that means) seems questionable. Only it’s exactly the kind of hedonistic urge that now seems oddly enticing. In fact, a lot of Hadreas’ music feels this way, tapping into collective cravings that have either been repressed or not given sufficient latitude to percolate. 

The title of his most recent LP, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, encapsulates this ethos. If the record has a superlative track , it’s the flouncy “On The Floor,” which refracts all-consuming romantic obsession through baroque ’80s instrumentation. After dramatically building up the moment, the track’s sultry opening guitar lick resounded and the band flared up.

When many speak about the legacy of the late Joan Didion, they examine her proximity to her subjects, in awe of the way she was able to be so incisive and penetrating from her comfortably distanced perch. It’s a tired analysis when applied to Didion, but not to Hadreas, whose performance is similarly tinged with dissociation, one of the many intricacies that seems like it shouldn’t mesh with the others but still finds a way to coalesce.

Hadreas’ ability to fuse so many contradictory elements is not something that has waned over the years, but only re-molded into new shapes. In June 2022, he is slated to release his sixth studio album, Ugly Season. So far he has teased no singles, played no new music while on tour and online information about the record is conspicuously lacking. Only time will tell what this mysterious American treasure has cooked up.

Emma Murphree covers film. Contact her at [email protected].