Perfume Genius live: from immersive to impeccable

Watching Perfume Genius perform live at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg on Dec. 13, 2017, as he played an array of compelling and upbeat songs from across various albums./ Courtesy of Olivia Feltus

I am not the most experienced live-music-goer. In my life, I have seen a total of six concerts, Perfume Genius included. Luckily, this seems to be changing at a rapid pace, and I am learning how much my experience with an artist can change by hearing them perform my favorite song live. My friend (with very good taste in music) and I were aware of this, so we decided to buy tickets to see Perfume Genius during exam week. It was worth it.

In anticipation, Perfume Genius’s new album, “No Shape,” had dominated my Spotify the week prior. Unlike “Too Bright,” the singer’s third album, half of which focuses on lightweight, relaxing melodies, and half on heavy, dark, electronic emotions, some of “Slip Away” generally has a cheerful tone, as evidenced in tracks like “Just Like Love” and “Slip Away.” Other songs, such as “Die 4 You” and “Valley” have heavier tones at parts with general shifts throughout. However, Too Bright has hallmark songs like “Queen” and the titular “Too Bright,” both of which were performed at the show.

Upon arriving, we found ourselves right up against the metal banister that was about 5 inches from the stage, alarmingly close to some very large speakers. But we were in the perfect spot. The center of the stage featured a large red keyboard, and around the stage were various instruments and microphones scattered about. A drumset with a pink Perfume Genius logo sat towards the back center of the arena. Soon the opening performer stepped on stage, clad in Commes de Garcons: Lydia Ainsworth, self described in her Instagram bio as a singer, composer and producer. Immediately, all eyes were drawn to the right of the stage.

Though only utilizing a keyboard, an iPhone and a mic directly in front of where my friend and I stood, she enchanted the audience with multiple original songs. Throughout most of her performance, a dancer emerged stage left wearing all black with a mask on—reminiscent of imagery presented in some of her songs. The dancer was enthralling with her quick and mechanical fluid movements, while Ainsworth had lighting effects projected on the wall behind her. Her set ended with a cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” sung solo while she played the keyboard.

There was a brief respite between acts and after what seemed like about 30 minutes, Perfume Genius entered; his energy struck me the instant that he walked onto the stage. The crowd erupted with excitement as he opened up with the song “Otherside” from his most recent album, No Shape. Wearing a silver, long-sleeved knit shirt with black leather pants, Perfume Genius made quite an entrance.

Songs interspersed in the set included “Wreath,” an upbeat song from Slip Away, “Normal Song,” (from Perfume Genius’s second album, Put Your Back N 2 It) an honest guitar track and “Body’s in Trouble,” a morphed cover of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s song from 1988. A very notable song that followed was “My Body,” my personal favorite song from Too Bright. In this song, a lot of noise happens at once and I did not know how well this would translate into a live performance since I have been listening to it since 2014 on the default Apple headphones that came with my phone. I was not disappointed, though. I was thrilled. Vibrations buzzed in the audience’s ears, and it seemed that many people had never felt more alive.

Perfume Genius’s stage presence was undeniably one of the most enthralling things I have viewed in my life. Though not particularly interactive with the audience (besides his facial expressions, body language and the one time my hand brushed up against his foot when he was half off the stage dancing directly in front of my friend and me), his soul seemed to stretch throughout the entire room through his choreography and lyricism. I asked my friend who was in attendance, Susannah Atkinson ’21, if they had any final remarks regarding the experience. Their response was “I had to lean back to keep his crotch from hitting my face.”

The lighting throughout the show fluctuated through purples, pinks, reds and blues that varied from song to song, each alluding to and blending with the singer’s ambiance. Both obvious and subtle changes were prioritized in presentation, and there were many unforgettable moments, of which two stand out in particular. Primarily, during the first encore song, “Learning,” when the singer sat down at the big red keyboard and the primary keyboardist walked over and sat down next to him. He then introduced the keyboardist as “Alan,” the namesake of a different Perfume Genius song as the two played the upbeat yet somber piano melody. The next was the last of the encore songs, which is one of his most powerful: “Queen.” Possibly the most well known, it discusses identity through heavy synth chords and pure vocals. It was a perfect note to end the show on.

There were many times I had to catch myself from just staring in awe at the performers. One thing in particular I kept noticing was how perfectly Perfume Genius’s distinctive voice lined up with how it sounds in recordings. Everything in the show was noticeably the same as what I have been listening to for years. At one point, a cellist, violinist and flautist appeared to accompany the main band, even further proving the authenticity of sound. In conclusion, the entire experience was immersive, beautiful and overall amazing. Atkinson seems to reinforce this, as they said “Olivia’s face was periodically stuck in an ‘o’ of wonder at how amazing they were in person.” And my face was—there was constantly something new and wonderful happening. I left the show smiling ear-to-ear. It was a magical night.

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