Perfume Genius review: Charismatic showman comes up smelling of roses

Vivid Sydney: Perfume Genius ★★★★
Carriageworks, June 11

What a difference a decade can make.

In the early 2010s, Seattle singer, songwriter and musician Michael Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, began releasing piano-based music that was so stripped-down and intimate that the simple act of listening felt like an invasion of privacy.

Cut to 2022 and Hadreas, wearing a sleeveless suit jacket and theatrically caressing the microphone while leading a band of five players, has transformed into a bona fide rock’n’roll frontman whose charisma is too big to fit on a standard-sized stage.

Whereas the Perfume Genius of old seemed more like a tortoise itching to retract into its shell, the current version of Hadreas is defined by a bold physicality no doubt informed by his recent foray into contemporary dance (an artistic excursion that has resulted in new album Ugly Season, a score for a contemporary dance piece).

After tearing through beefed-up, visceral versions of Describe, Without You and Your Body Changes Everything from 2020 album Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, Hadreas introduces a quieter passage of songs that demonstrates the depth and breadth of his catalogue.

The baroque pop of Jason, sounding straight off a carefully curated Wes Anderson soundtrack, segues into the synthy Fool and a slew of other well-crafted earworms, the common thread a striking voice that conveys power and fragility in equal measure.

Hadreas returns to his roots somewhat when he dismisses his band and sits at the keyboard for a solo rendition of Katie, a quietly devastating deep cut that proves the 41-year-old performer can still make an indelible impression even without the Rock God bombast.

Not for the first time, hushed reverence from the polite crowd soon erupts into hollering and dancing when the self-explanatory On the Floor arrives, a recent track that proves Hadreas’ artistry is still very much on the ascent with each new album outdoing the last in terms of scope, impact and emotional reach.

By the time Hadreas and his crack band reach the triumphant closer Queen, it’s hard not to see its highly quotable lyric No family is safe when I sashay as less a tongue-in-cheek boast and more a bold matter of fact.

Perfume Genius may have taken a little more than a decade to fully unfurl himself, but the wait has culminated in the audience’s reward, with those in attendance witnessing a passionate performer in peak form.

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