Concert Review: Perfume Genius + serpentwithteeth @ Theatre Fairmount


The room was already nearly full when I arrived 15 minutes early, wandering over to the merch booth to look at the t-shirts and gold ‘No Shape’ necklaces. The stage was dimly lit and bristling with palm fronds which looked fake, but must have been real because the tips were starting to brown. I managed to get up close just in time.

serpentwithteeth took the stage and it all began, Josiah Wise’s flawless voice winding and fluttering as string and horn samples unfolded over watery kick drums. The combination was effective and arresting: minimal looped gospel-tinged meditations centered around desire, attraction, and queer intimacy. He seemed to glower, basking in the ominous energy of the music and then slipping easily into quick-witted banter between songs, trading barbs with some rowdy audience members and working his lyrical content into an ongoing conversation. While the slippery sounds and his sometimes menacing presentation seemed at first designed to be off-putting, his gorgeous vocal delivery and fearless vulnerability soon won the room over, and he was gone from the stage much too soon.

After a short wait, a bass-boosted-beyond-all-recognition version of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” gave way to an instrumental rendition of “Choir” from this year’s thrilling No Shape LP, and then Perfume Genius strode into view. About a minute in, set and album opener “Otherside” proved itself to be the ideal kickoff track as the delicate piano arpeggios and Mike Hadreas’s cracked falsetto dropped suddenly into a sparkling chorus of soaring pads and tooth-rattling bass. This dynamic played out easily into the rest of the set as the band pivoted smoothly between hushed, beautiful moments and ponderous, locked grooves. The whole vibe of the performance was cohesive, right down to the sartorial choices: Mike wore a scandalous bare-shouldered classy outfit, and it only served to emphasize the way he slunk across the stage mid-song.

Highlight tracks included the stuttering “Go Ahead,” the trip-hop-drenched “Die 4 You” and the absolutely ecstatic yodel of “Wreath.” While at times the mood reflected all sorts of melancholic and introspective shades, the overarching thread was one of triumph, of security, of winking self-awareness. Mike’s strange and authentic sense of humor was on display throughout, along with the obvious affection between all sharing the stage. Quieting down for the encore, we were treated to a couple solo piano numbers, culminating in the rest of the band returning for a dazzling rendition of “Hood” off his 2012 LP Put Your Back N 2 It. The show closed perfectly with the towering snarl of queer anthem “Queen” and then it was over, and I followed the flushed audience out onto Parc, surrounded by straight dudes proclaiming loudly to all within earshot that “that was actually really sick.”