LIVE: Perfume Genius @ Palace Theater, Los Angeles

Embracing the atmospheric darkness of a theatre performance, Perfume Genius' intricate live set offers some breathtaking cinematic moments, reaching new emotional heights in what is the first faithful performance of his recent album Set My Heart On Fire Immediately.
Posted: 21 September 2020 Words: Anthony Harbin

As wildfires continue to blaze across California, leaving West-coast cities enshrouded in dystopian orange smog redolent of Blade Runner 2049, Mike Hadreas AKA Perfume Genius ignites the Palace Theater in Los Angeles with a six-piece band and string section, in a showcase for tracks from his acclaimed new album Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

In lieu of touring during the pandemic, many artists have staged elaborately filmed sets in grand venues within their respective cities. Whereas most have utilised these venues to lend dramatic character to the gigs, such as Laura Marling at Islington’s Union Chapel or Angel Olsen in various theatres around Asheville, Mike Hadreas could be anywhere, opting for the atmospherics of a stage enveloped in darkness.

Draped in loose-fit double-breasted suit and white vest he enters the stage as the band open with new album cuts ‘Your Body Changes Everything’, ‘Without You’ and the rust-worn grind of album highlight ‘Describe’. Previous album No Shape had a celestial sheen but this latest offering is more grounded and gritty, and it’s thrilling to hear them live and watch him strut and lean into these songs with a newly developed low growl.

Perfume Genius' songs often deal with the body and its constraints and his live performances are physical affairs as you might expect, constantly writhing, arching his back and twisting through the music. The lyrics can be difficult to distinguish in his prowling falsetto but the themes of queer identity and love often shine through beautifully “how long do we have to live right before we don’t even have to try?” (‘Valley’), particularly in one of the most moving sections where he takes to the piano to deliver tender ballad ‘Alan’ about longtime partner/bandmate Alan Wyfells, “did you notice, we sleep through the night / did you notice, that everything’s alright”.

The camera moves from stationary wide angle shots of the band to more dynamic hand held close ups. The most breathtakingly cinematic moment occurs during penultimate track ‘My Body’: the camera zeros in on Hadreas as synths pound and blue light flashes menacingly over the contours of his face while the angle bends slowly along with his body into a disorientating upside-down contortion.

The set finishes with a typically rousing rendition of signature track and perennial live favourite ‘Queen’ with the immortal tongue-in-cheek sneer, “no family is safe / when I sashay”. Mike Hadreas then leaves as the band continues into an extended outro while we follow him backstage through a dark corridor into an ascending elevator.

For those that paid extra for the “special intimate, acoustic solo encore”, the elevator continues into a bright bare room with a piano. He begins the encore with an understated and elegant cover of Mazzy Star’s ‘Fade Into You’, followed by ‘Dreeem’, ‘Normal Song’ and ‘Learning’ where he is joined at the piano by Alan himself. A gorgeous and intimate close to the gig, well worth the extra fiver.

Perfume Genius has only gone from strength to strength with each album, this latest offering his most intricate and sprawling yet. As the music has developed so has his confidence in performing, and the band are excellent throughout. The only slight hindrance is his voice sometimes doesn’t quite have the power to evoke the emotional heights of songs like the Kate Bush channeling ‘Wreath’ or No Shape powerhouse ‘Slip Away’, but this is small fry on the scale of this wonderfully accomplished musician and commanding performer who will only continue to flourish.

To hear more from Perfume Genius, click here

More from buzz