Bravery, while often outspoken, can be soft when it needs to be. In the hushed murmurs of Perfume Genius’ performance at Royale on Saturday (May 13), it was lead singer Mike Hadreas who stepped into the vulnerable danger zone, not with a punk rock manifesto of aggression, but a swan-song sort of defiance and confidence.
Despite the sexed-up wave of androgyny in 1970s hard rock (truly, those taut jumpsuits deserve their own memo in history), being able to be more open about your sexuality — regardless of what orientation it is — has been a welcome yet overdue part of the 2010s. Via the music that spreads on the interwebs, indie artists like Told Slant and (until recently) PWR BTTM have been embraced and celebrated because of their musical talent and unabashed queerness, not only opening a door for significant representation for the LGBTQIA community, but also demonstrating that heteronormativity is utter bullshit. Perfume Genius falls into the same category; the Seattle-based musician’s work has always been rooted in his (often violent) experiences as an openly gay man.
Much like his appearance, Hadreas’ music is totally slick and fluid, always unveiling itself as a touch unexpected. His 2017 album No Shape, of course, is an exact reflection his entire musical journey, complete with his brand of alt-soft rock that fidgets somewhere between bizarre and eloquent. “No family is safe/When I sashay,” he boasts with his suave vocals on “Queen,” debatably Hadreas’ claim to fame on his 2014 album Too Bright. Like many of the slurs that have come before it, the song reclaims the derogatory remark with soft-spoken yet confident flippancy.
“Is the stage bright? I don’t want you to really see me,” Hadreas remarks bashfully in between sips of his water, barely speaking above a mumble. He sways through the music like he’s wading through a pool or squeezing through a crowded discotheque, his ill-fitting bell-bottom jumpsuit sliding down his chest with each time his hips gyrate.
Tucked into the simplicity of piano ballad “I Decline” and the more subversive dominance of “My Body,” Hadreas underscores his unashamed identity, always quietly but with an overwhelming sense of self-assurance. Pre-encore show closer “Slip Away” bursts as a rare moment of excess and booming euphoria for the singer, saluting the freedom of letting “them voices slip away.”
“They’ll talk/Give them every reason/For child, you walk” he preaches in “Just Like Love,” a new song inspired by a viral video of a young boy catwalking in a makeshift blanket-dress that reminded Hadreas of a younger version of himself. The lyrics slip from his tongue like silky sage advice from someone who’s seen the turbulent dog days and lived to tell the tale — which of course, Hadreas has.
Hadreas has sashayed a long way since his 2010 debut Learning, and seven years later, he’s mastered the shape — or fluid lack thereof — of the flamboyant backbone behind his own brand of “genius.”