Bowery Boston presents
Doors: 6:00 pm / Show: 6:30 pm
This event is 18 and over. Patrons under 18 admitted if accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
Tickets on sale Fri. 2/17 at noon!
Tickets available at AXS.COM, or by phone at 888-929-7849. No service charge on tickets purchased in person at The Sinclair Box Office Wednesdays-Saturdays 12-7PM. Please note: box office is cash only.
Perfume Genius has partnered with Plus 1 so that $1 from every ticket goes to support the ACLU and their work defending and protecting our individual rights and liberties.
Over the course of two astonishing albums, Perfume Genius, aka Seattle native Mike Hadreas, cemented his place as a singer-songwriter of rare frankness, creating songs that, while achingly emotional, offered empathy and hope, rather than any judgment or handwringing. Sparse, gorgeous and with Hadreas’ quavering vocals often only accompanied by piano, they were uncommonly beautiful tales of a life lived on the dark side – scarred, brutalised, yet ultimately, slowly but surely reclaimed.
“Too Bright”, however, is something else altogether. Less self-conscious, and less concerned with storytelling and easily-digested melodies, it is a brave, bold, unpredictably quixotic exploration of what Hadreas calls “an underlying rage that has slowly been growing since ten and has just begun to bubble up.” This sharp U-turn came early in the writing process, when a creatively frustrated and uninspired Hadreas decided not to write what he thought people might want to hear – or as he describes it, “mid tempo Adele songs, carefully plotting each chord and lyric like math” – but focus instead on writing what came naturally, 100% visceral and unfiltered, no matter what the potential reception might be. “I looked to PJ Harvey”, he recalls. “How powerful and raw she can be, and thought, “what is my version of that?”‘
The resultant album, then, is a stunning about-face which brings to mind audacious career-shift albums like Kate Bush’s The Dreaming or Scott Walker’s Tilt, records which walk the tightrope between pure songwriting and overt experimentation. Here, Hadreas is aided in his efforts by not one, but two unlikely conspirators – John Parish, who plays drums on several tracks, and Portishead’s Adrian Utley, who, as producer, brought the physical resources to flesh out the songs in innovative ways. According to Hadreas, Utley was the key to unlocking hitherto unexplored terrain on the album, using both synths and organic instrumentation to push the tracks to darker and more unreal heights. The album is also rounded off with key contributions from longtime touring band members Alan Wyffels and Hervé Bécart.
The fragile yet defiant “I Decline” opens the album, draped in hushed, languorous beauty, but it is an outlier. The interim between “Put Your Back N 2 It” and “Too Bright” has seen Perfume Genius grow claws and fangs, and he is unafraid to draw blood. On the following track (and first single) “Queen”, the line “Don’t you know your queen?” booms out over ominous guitars, not so much a genuine question as a rhetorical one, as Hadreas proceeds to deconstruct gay panic with relish. Even with a wordless, albeit soaring and cacophonous symphony of a chorus it sounds huge, anthemic, a gleeful kiss off to what he describes as “faces of blank fear when I walk by…if these fucking people want to give me some power – if they see me as some sea witch with penis tentacles that are always prodding and poking and seeking to convert the muggles – well, here she comes”.
That mischevious sense of defiance runs rampant through the album. A surreal threat hangs over songs like “My Body” and “Grid”, with piercing screams, tribal drums and electronic stabs highlighting disturbing lyrics of self-destruction and temporary respite from the darkness. On “Fool” meanwhile, deceptively swinging doo-wop rhythms disguise a story of social mutiny, with Hadreas tearing into the stereotype of “a walking, talking candelabra”, and rejecting it for something much more volatile and dangerous. “Ive met people that laugh at EVERYTHING i say”, he muses. “I could be talking about OJ or Munchausens Syndrome or bloody stool – I am still just the cutest thing. Here only to enrich their lives, not have one of my own. Make their dress, tell them how great their boobs look and then peace. Isnt he the best?”
Which is not to say that Hadreas has completely abandoned the shimmering, exquisite piano ballads that he is so known for. “No Good” is a heartbreaking meditation on a difficult life lived on the outside but “spent looking in”, while the somber closer “All Along” is a resigned yet firm rebuke to acceptance and reassurance from external forces, preferring instead to find refuge from within – “I have my love”, Hadreas asserts, “and I apply it where I need to”. This, in fact, is the overarching theme of “Too Bright”; the connective tissue loosely joining up these 11 stunning, weird and wonderful tracks – the discovery of strength and power where previously he felt he had little. As he himself puts it, during the making of the album, it felt “like i had woken some ancient beast which began to rattle and threaten to rise”. With this record, consider the demon awoken. There’s no turning back now.
After spending years studying as a classical vocalist, 27-year-old Baltimore-born artist serpentwithfeet (a nom de plume for Josiah Wise) spent time drifting around Paris and London before eventually landing in NYC. It was here that his music-a beautiful confluence of gospel and classically-inflected electronica-began to truly take shape.
“I decided in 2012 or in 2013 that I didn’t want a band anymore,” he recalls, “I was like, “What would happen if I did my R&B thing over this classical shit” It took a while, but I started to wonder if I could make something that satisfies other people and myself. I want the music to resonate with people. I didn’t start thinking about that until I moved to New York, to be honest.”
blisters is serpentwithfeet’s first EP from Tri Angle Records. After spending a few years experimenting-both musically and visually-in NYC’s underground queer music scene (“I was basically just posting something new every week on Soundcloud, waiting for someone to take notice,” he says), Wise eventually struck on a sound and a sentiment that made sense. On “four ethers,” the third single to be taken from blisters, serpentwithfeet wonders aloud what it would feel like to be violently transparent, and finds him in pursuit of a rare honesty. Huge swathes of strings and percussion emphatically rise and crash turbulently against Wise’s questioning voice as he ultimately asks: “How can I touch somebody who wont even touch themselves?” “four ethers” might be serpentwithfeet’s most powerful and dramatic work to date.
A similar kind of emotional dynamic runs throughout all of blisters. Tracks like “penance” and “redemption” vacillate between hushed intimacy and huge emotional swells. On the EP’s title track, Wise’s multi-tracked voice plays against gently-plucked harp and syncopated handclaps, the record’s gospel affectations and slinky R&B tropes fusing into something unique, exotic, and strangely beautiful. Meanwhile, surrounded by strings, subtle electronics and Wise’s restrained piano playing–and buoyed aloft by production courtesy of The Haxan Cloak- the EP’s first single, “flickering,” is the perfect showcase for Wise’s powerhouse voice. “I’m starting to feel the cord connecting us two is made of gossamer,” he sings. “I’m starting to feel there’s no cord between us two/are we made of gossamer?” The track unspools with a kind of hushed intimacy, the tone and tenor of Wise’s voice rising and falling like a breath until the song itself crests and flutters before disappearing completely.
Given that he credits both Brandy and Bjork as inspirations, it’s not surprising that serpentwithfeet treads a fine line between emotive gospel and more left-of-centre stylings. With his own gloriously outré personal style and penchant for the dramatic, it also makes sense that the music Wise makes would be so remarkably unclassifiable. “It feels very free because I also feel very free,” he says. “I don’t feel like being gay restricts me in the same way I also don’t feel like being black restricts me. In fact, it only makes me more interesting. Making music has always been about making a space for myself in the world. My theory has always been that if you walk into a room and say, ‘This is my room’-it’s your room. The End.”