Review: Perfume Genius bends over backward for queer triumph at Emo’s
Go ahead and try the kind of impossible back bends Mike Hadreas works his way into.
No, truly — the man performing as Perfume Genius exhorts you. He’s daring you to bend yourself a little further.
Go ahead. Try.
Sometimes, a back bend is just a back bend. In the rapturously writhing form of Hadreas at Emo’s on Monday night, it was a metaphor. The consummate showman cycled through his discography in Austin, including last year’s transcendent “No Shape,” and created a space of queer triumph on East Riverside Drive.
Every movement — Hadreas was perpetually moving — invited the audience to experience their body and their world with pride. The singer emerged at the beginning of the show curling with ecstasy to “Otherside.” He allowed himself to be struck down by crashes of sound, crucified in mid-sashay. Swaddled at first in a multi-armed sport coat that swallowed him whole, his arms sheathed in golden evening gloves, Hadreas slunk to the floor like Salome. His tremulous voice on songs like “Wreath” became part of the air around stage.
That song, an affirming jolt in a set that felt like watching a timelapse of sunrises and sunsets, ended with a keen that would have made Dolores O’Riordan proud. Hadreas’ voice was a finely calibrated instrument, ringing at high-altitude octaves (”Just Like Love”) and purring in the cellars of low-tone seduction (”Valley”). Monster guitars blurred out your senses. Deliberate percussion struck like hammers to the heart. Synths made quicker work of your hold on reality than tall boys from the bar ever could.
Hadreas’ shape-shifting through his back catalog made the night even more mercurial, with shattering ballads like “Hood” seeping through the room and swirling into the brash, industrial strut of “Queen.” “Dark Parts” stunned and stirred, and Hadreas sang of taking the titular dark parts of an unnamed heart into his own. Not long after, he was grabbing his pants in the part of a pair of a pants that you would probably think to grab, yelping and dropping low to the floor on the strength of an expertly posed derrière. Lots of good pants choreography all night, to be honest.
“Slip Away” ended with a flick of the wrist and a microphone pointed skyward. They’ll never break the shape we take, Hadreas assured his audience. Voices of self-doubt fogging up the heads of those gathered, who perhaps have had many try to break them, slipped away, I am sure. Hadreas was willing to bend over backward to make it so.