The stage light flickers in lilac colors far into the audience area, except for the imposing, three-story tall poles here at the Metropol. But of course everyone’s eyes are drawn – and this spectacular room doesn’t change anything – like Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, in a tank top and baggy jeans along with his five-piece band (guitars, drums, bass, electronic pianos and percussion) performs the enters the stage. He rests his left hand casually, almost lustfully on his hips, and with his right grips the microphone tightly, as if to hold it: “Your body changes everything,” he sings sloppily and with a lot of reverb. in the eponymous concert opener.
It is one of the songs on his internationally acclaimed fifth album ‘Set My Heart On Fire Immediately’. It has been out for two years now, but due to the pandemic, Perfume Genius has not been able to tour with him as befits his situation. In between there is even a sixth album, ‘Ugly Season’, which with its orchestral arrangements is less suitable for a band concert.
Brilliant flashbacks to Berlin in the 1920s
The glamorous location is a perfect fit for Perfume Genius: the Metropol in Schöneberg’s Nollendorfkiez with its 100-year tradition of queer bars. Not far from here, on Zossener Strasse, lived the pioneering gay writer Christopher Isherwood in the late 1920s. With his episodic novel Goodbye to Berlin, he created the model for the musical and film Cabaret.
Perfume Genius, who gained attention in 2010 with tender, almost fragile piano ballads on his debut album “Learning”, can also be seen in Isherwood’s tradition of queer storytelling. On “All Waters,” the next album, Perfume Genius sang passionately about how much he longs as a gay man to fearlessly hold his boyfriend’s hand on every busy street. And where better to do that than here in Schöneberg, Nollendorfkiez?
The audience feels the same way: many male and female couples hold each other, visibly happy. Several pearl necklaces (undoubtedly the unisex accessory of the season) sparkle in the room. The audience is noticeably young: Many are probably younger than the Perfume Genius himself, who is 40, but with his Peter Pan-like looks he could also pass for a decade younger. His voice still sounds a little restrained in the first songs of the evening. It seems he still needs to conquer his sonic space, against the nasty, noisy guitar feedback that probably unintentionally rumbles through the room at times.
Against the shame of gay sex
Perfume Genius beats his chest as if to encourage himself. then she flexes sexily on the mic stand like a pole dancer, only to flip the stand horizontally and push it up against gravity, like a priest pushing a host against gravity at a high mass. The audience cheers.
After so much action, the Perfume Genius deserves a little creepiness: He sits in an upholstered chair that looks so princely, like it was just stolen from Sanssouci Palace. The song “Jason” is then about the night the lyrical self (possibly Mike Hadreas himself) spends with another man. This eponymous Jason strips the singer in the song, but doesn’t dare shed his own clothes. Instead, they shed tears torn by shame. And the song suggests that this is because of society, which until recently has almost exclusively endorsed heterosexual desire as permissible. In this way, politics reaches the private sphere – and vice versa.
Perfume Genius has been singing against this shame of being gay for years, paving the way for younger, confident queer acts in indie pop who are now enjoying greater success. He, who was once the victim of homophobic bullying at school in Seattle, dropped out of school and went to New York to find freedom, but first he became injured and heavily addicted to drugs. This difficult time was often the theme of the first albums, albeit in code.
Disco poses like in the ballroom
Meanwhile, Perfume Genius can also make hits on the dance floor in addition to trauma ballads. Even the latter realizes that with ‘On The Floor’, a light-hearted party anthem, with Perfume Genius getting the crowd dancing and inciting ballroom-like disco poses. Perfume Genius swings in forward and backward bends that would make any yoga teacher proud.
The light shines pearly as it hits the mic cord like it’s a snake – and it’s the snake charmer. On other songs, it’s almost like he’s licking the mic like an ice cream cone — or like a rooster. So much for fighting shame! Anyone who experienced Perfume Genius on his early tours, where he usually hid shyly behind his piano, cannot help but admire this spectacle. This time, the electric pianos are played almost exclusively by his longtime friend Alan Wyffels, who sometimes imitates a harp. Increasingly noisy electronic guitars take up much more audio space above the frenetic percussion.
“Set My Heart On Fire Immediately” is the name of the album with which Perfume Genius came to Berlin for a tour. And yes: the hearts of the now sweaty but perfectly perfumed crowd that it has undoubtedly ignited, as the title requires, and brought them up to operating temperature to love and let love. Towards the end, the Perfume Genius sits on a throne, on which is spread a giant cloud of tulle, which, depending on the light, could pass as a huge cream or a wedding dress with a skirt.