Since some point when I was in undergrad, I've consistently said Radiohead is my favorite band. The music/noise they make is unearthly and being somewhere other than earth sounds pretty good a lot of times. But for the thousands of times I've listened to each of those Thom Yorke led vocal tracks, I still hardly know what he is saying. And generally, I don't care. The same applies to many/most of my favorite music artists. Lyrics just don't matter that much to me.
So, Perfume Genius. I saw him open for Beirut a couple of months ago. I listened to his music before the show a little bit and continued listening afterwards. But as Beirut's opening act in a still filling, and still mostly empty, 9:30 Club, he became background music. He was too "small" to fill the venue. His music is quiet, gentle and fragile. It's just the reality of a larger venue with people talking and getting their drinks more than tuning into the performer.
So tonight, after taking a strong liking to his recorded music, I decided to try again at IOTA in Clarendon, VA. (If they could only know the complement in that--the leaving DC to go to VA part, that is). The small venue was definitely better suited for the act, although the smallness thing came through in its own away again. The sheer subtlety of his music makes the most minor...flicker, I'll call it...stand out. Small voice cracks, a slightly too strong hammer-on, adjustment requests to the guy manning the boards, and at least two song re-starts--all these things stand out more than they might for another act.
But despite what my knit-picking might suggest, we (the audience) were quite forgiving. Some even gave him words of reassurance. He acknowledged the hiccups with a giggle and moved on. As he moved, he got stronger. My favorite was when he played a four handed "Learning" with his partner, both sharing the same small chair. The show finished with a two song "finale"--he never actually left the stage after the main set. The last song was unknown to me--something outside of his two LPs. I liked it and with its more electronic/synthesized keys, may have hinted at his next steps.
Back to that intro about the triviality of lyrics. PG is a stand out and has quickly become one of my favorite (internal) rebuttals to that shallow belief. I can't claim to know exactly what his songs are about, but I can infer the topics of suicide (Mr Peterson); deception to satisfy physical desire (The Hood); abuse (Dark Parts), molestation and a lot of other hush hush topics. He's certainly not alone (Cat Power's Names comes to mind), but so few do it well IMHO.
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