perfume genius 2.jpg
Seeing Perfume Genius live kind of feels like looking at Mike Hadreas naked.
Perfume Genius, with Diamond Rings and Shenandoah Davis

The Crocodile

Wednesday, September

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Perfume Genius Plays Beautiful, Intimate, and Awkward Set to the Crocodile's Quiet Crowd

perfume genius 2.jpg
Seeing Perfume Genius live kind of feels like looking at Mike Hadreas naked.
Perfume Genius, with Diamond Rings and Shenandoah Davis

The Crocodile

Wednesday, September 22

As far as performances go, Diamond Rings and Perfume Genius could not be more different. Diamond Rings--the nom de music of Toronto's John O'Regan--is like a one man dance club, circa 1983. Wearing blue eyeshadow and dressed in gold lame tights (in the Crocodile's lights, he kinda looked pantless), an acid wash denim jacket, and a vintage Toronto Blue Jays shirt, O'Regan bounced back and forth across the stage between his keyboard and guitar, depending which instrument drives his drum machine-heavy songs. He danced during songs' instrumental breaks; he would sometimes play the keyboard with one hand and punch the air with the other. The music sounded like the love child of Boy George and George Michael, with a dash of Bowie and the voice of Ian Curtis. O'Regan is truly a charming performer: before playing a brand new song, he joked about his upcoming album being leaked online earlier that day. "I didn't bring any merch with me, but you can listen to my whole album for free on the Internet." His opening set at the Crocodile was simultaneously the most absurd and most unique performance I've seen all year.

While Diamond Rings' energy was in stark contrast to down-tempo, shrinking violet style of Perfume Genius, there was something very similar about the intimacy and awkwardness of both sets.

Both musicians laid themselves bare. O'Regan, with his take-me-for-who-I-am attitude, still expressed insecurity in lyrics like "I know I'm really not your thing/ just in case you change your mind/ I wrote this song for you to sing" or "Take time/ just to make time/I don't want you to leave." His stage persona seemed like it could be his real personality, unassuming and effusively grateful to the audience. (It's a cheap comparison, but he reminded me of the dance scene in Napoleon Dynamite.)

Mike Hadreas, the man behind Perfume Genius, seemed just as genuine in his awkwardness. He took the stage with no fanfare; he sat behind his keyboard and said, simply, "Hi." Then, he and second keyboardist/vocalist (and Hadreas' boyfriend) Alan Wyffels played "Look Out Look Out" to a dead silent crowd. No one in the audience was chatting; they were all faced forward, listening as Hadreas sang in his quiet voice and watching his expressive face.

It was a beautiful set. Hadreas almost winced when he touched the keyboard and grimaced while singing, as if the lyrics "Hold my hand/ I am afraid" are difficult for him to admit. I wouldn't have been surprised if he started crying. Hadreas puts it all out there; he is who he is, and as uncomfortable as he might be on stage, he's not going to be anyone but himself.

During "Learning," Wyfells sat next to Hadreas at the piano, hitting the keys at the same time, singing into the microphone. It was so incredibly intimate and personal; it seemed clear that Hadreas needed Wyfells there more for moral support than musical back-up. But even between the two, there were moments of separation: when Wyfells wasn't needed on some songs, he sat at his own piano, his head cocked to the side, watching Hadreas lean into the microphone gently, as if Hadreas feared he'd break it. Even Wyfells became an observer. Watching Perfume Genius was like seeing a rare bird in the wild: Hadreas is a remarkable creature, and you want to get closer to him but maintain distance for fear of scaring him way.

Reporter's notebook:

Overheard on KEXP on the way to the Croc: DJ El Toro (that's Kurt B. Reighley) said that he'd give his "left little toe" to be at the show last night. I concur.

 
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