Perfume Genius – Union Chapel, London – 06/09/12


Much has been written of Mike Hadreas’s troubling past.  The lyrics to his often short songs feel like fleeting glimpses into traumatising scenarios, their lack of verbosity adding gravitas to those which are there.  Though melodramatic on paper, the counterpoint of Hadreas’s talented ear for melody and restrained, luscious delivery keep things on the right side of the border of ridiculousness, in the realm of magnificence.  Speaking as someone whose usual response to contrived sincerity is to err far on the side of caution, I don’t make that statement lightly.  These songs aren’t about repetitive structures and giant choruses, they thrive in their understated brevity and facile components.  These songs aren’t grappling for your attention, they know how good they are and it’s up to you to buy them a drink.


“Waver, shambling; if you want your medicine, show me” begins Hadreas over the opening notes of an AWOL Marine / Perry medley that renders the audience speechless.  Dressed in black high heels and frock all in black accentuating his slender frame, he’s all too aware of the incongruity with his surroundings.  In the cavernous reverberations of the Union Chapel however, these songs have never sounded so good.  From the moment Hadreas picked up his guitar till the ring of the last note of Normal Song I lost all rational connection with my physical self, barely to remember to breathe as I hung on to every single note.  For those brief moments, I felt free of cynicism, losing myself in the moment I felt lucky to be witness to.  Even the harsh interface of the wood of the pew and my fat arse became inconsequential as I pondered if this is how a religious experience is supposed to feel.


Too often artists forget the effect on an audience the venue in which they play is integral to the performance.  With music like this, nothing short of absolute silence and undivided attention will do.  It would be a tragedy if Perfume Genius became the fodder for middle-class dinner parties and waiting room background music where their unassuming detail would never transcend beyond sounding “nice”.  This is how this music was meant to be heard.  Live music is an experience, not just a bunch of proper lads playing proper guitars with proper haircuts throwing in a bit of banter between tunes.  The balance is so fine that all it would have taken would be a couple of day trippers chatting shit over the top to make this an entirely different experience.  Perfume Genius is not festival music.


It’s obvious Hadreas is not used to such attentive, obedient crowds, as each time the crowd stop clapping to hear his speech between songs, the absolute silence shocks him into an embarrassed stutter before moving on to the next song.  As he points out, this is the largest headline show the band have ever played.  When his boyfriend and band mate Alan Wyffels joins him for Learning you can see the relief to have him close.  “No one will answer your prayers until you take off that dress / No one will hear all your crying until you take your last breath.” Hadreas sings as the unique couple play.  It’s touching to see the person behind this harrowing music so outwardly happy and genuinely affected by the sizeable respectful audience he could never have imagined when first writing those words.


Hadreas uses music as a therapeutic outlet, compulsively recording these songs to give him direction away from his destructive past.  Such is the way with artists who deal with trauma in such a way, you have to wonder how long this creative streak can last as Perfume Genius continue to sell out larger and larger shows until contentment and distance from those difficult times force a rethink of his approach.  Have you heard that latest Bright Eyes album?  No-one knows what tomorrow will bring, and speculation gives no guarantee.  It is the present tense where we have control, and having witnessed this performance at this time, I feel lucky.  If possible, I implore you to do the same.




*If they were to put some fucking WD40 on the door hinge leading to the toilets that is.  Seriously, if anyone reads this, please for the love of god go to Union Chapel with a can and give that hinge a squirt.  Everyone will thank you, even Jesus himself.


YouTube user Andunemir has uploaded videos of the entire show which you can view in this playlist.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.