(Photo: Diana Khong)
Maybe it’s unfair to place expectations on things. When I saw Antony and the Johnsons play in Seattle a few years ago, it was the most moving concert I’d ever seen. It is undeniable that there is something similar in the music of Perfume Genius, the stage name of Seattleite Mike Hadreas. It has the same sad yearning, the richly melancholic and melodramatic textures that infect Antony’s songs. But maybe hoping for the same emotional resonance at Hadreas’ show at Portland’s Mississippi Studios was setting myself up for disappointment.
Hadreas and his two piece band took the stage and launched into “Gay Angels” from his debut record Learning. That solemn reverie set the tone for a 45 minute show that reached for the heartstrings but never quite pulled them. With his stud earrings sparkling and his shirt buttoned up to his neck, Hadreas looked and sounded vulnerable as he played through both older tracks and those that populate his excellent new record Put Your Back N 2 It.
The mostly standing room venue may have been the wrong place to experience this music, though it sounded excellent. Songs such as “No Tear” and “Lookout, Lookout” beg for the intimacy of a seated theater, especially one without a fucking bar in the rear where the disinterested can gather and loudly order up another microbrew, breaking any sort of spell cast by Hadreas.
The venue’s crisp acoustics lent themselves well to new songs such as “Take Me Home” and “Dark Parts,” but technical problems plagued the first portion of the set. Hadreas couldn’t hear his piano monitor and even stopped “Dark Parts” until the problem was fixed. On the second try, “Dark Parts” soared, its emotional power filling up the club. For “Normal Song,” Hadreas switched to guitar, but spent most of the set in front of the keyboard. The lush atmospherics of Hadreas’ songs worked well on new song “17,” its rich lyrics of semen-covered violins rounding out its haunted melody.
Hadreas spoke little between songs, but when he did his humor cut the sadness. He introduced himself as “Diane” and reminisced about his previous Portland show, where he claimed only 20 people showed up. It makes sense because Put Your Back N 2 It has been getting great reviews. When juxtaposed with new songs such as “All Waters,” some of the Learning tracks felt quaint. And lead single “Hood” was just as powerful as I had hoped.
After finishing his first set with “Sister Song,” Hadreas claimed he would walk off and then walk back on and play an encore. Good to his word, the band must have been off-stage for 30 seconds before returning to play “Mr. Peterson.” The set ended with Hadreas alone playing “Katie,” a final three minutes of wistful sadness. Then he was gone. Maybe I will cry next time.