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Perfume Genius Brings Sad Tales to Very Quiet Room

[Photo: Jennifer Edmondson]

Things got real serious last night with Mike Hadreas, a.k.a. Perfume Genius. In front of 40 people or so at Williamsburg venue Zebulon, the Seattle-based singer-songwriter played an intimate set of mostly new tracks from his forthcoming Matador release, Put Your Back N2 It.

Actually, it was more than intimate — the bartender wouldn’t make a whiskey and coke because the whoosh of the soda gun would have drowned out the music. These songs are hauntingly intense, drawing on his past experiences with addiction and hustling, so it is nearly impossible to not stand silent and get wrapped up in them. No sudden moves, no chatting, no checking your phone.

The title of his new record may draw up Ice Cube memories but these songs are as stark and gut-wrenching as the ones on his 2010 debut, Learning. As he sat behind a keyboard, flanked by Alan Wyffels manning another set of keys and guitarist Eric Corson, Hadreas bore all of his tracks’ naked emotion in his pained and strained facial expressions. Wearing a loose, red flowered shirt, Hadreas had the small crowd in intense awe for his 45 minute, eerily quiet set. The few times the door creakily opened it blended almost perfectly into the sparse, delicate ballads.

He stuck mostly to songs from the new album, which boasts an incrementally more expansive sound than Learning. On the record, a track like “Hood” builds up from just Hadreas’ voice and lonely piano pangs to a nearly rollicking percussive scene with lyrics of fearfully doing whatever necessary to keep a lover. In this small live setting, though, the song was stripped of its drums and became an even lonelier excursion into a strained romance.

After the 40-minute mark, Hadreas exited the stage, in the small, wooded basement-style venue, but was easily goaded with a smattering of claps back on stage for an encore. He politely rebuffed a request with a slight but welcome chuckle as he settled into an unreleased song titled “Katie.” The urge to give the man a hug and tell him everything would be okay was incredibly prevalent all night, so even that hint of a laugh was hopefully a sign things are a bit brighter for him than they are for the protagonists of his songs.