It’s not every night that you get to enjoy the sounds of two beautiful, local artists and donate to a good cause simultaneously. KEXP’s 19th Little Big Show at the Neptune Theatre was one such exception. The show, whose proceeds benefited Lambert House, a community center in Seattle for LGBTQ youth, brought together performances from Briana Marela, a rising synth-star from Olympia, with Perfume Genius, the alias of Tacoma-based musician, art-pop auteur, and gay icon, Mike Hadreas.
Marela kicked things off with “Be In Love,” and “Give Me Your Love,” the first two tracks from her new album, Call It Love. It was a wise way to start the set. “Be In Love,” and “Give Me Your Love,” are two of the catchiest cuts on the release, which came out on Jagjaguwar in August. What’s more, they’re just as atmospheric and experimental as they are directly accessible, the kind of poppy music that you could play at the end of a party for people to dance to, while still keeping pace with the indie kids.
To her credit, Marela performed them flawlessly from behind her keyboard and rig of electronics. Her voice, one of the strongest parts of her music, cut through the theatre crisp and clear, while bandmates Natalie Day and Joel Skavdahl filled in with lush, backing harmonies as well as dancy instrumentals, played on bass, drums, and synth. By the third song, “Quit,” one of Call It Love’s singles, a few in the crowd had decided to sing along. A guess: it won’t be long before more decide to join in.
You know a performer is a BFD when their band comes out before them. The performer knows both a) that you’ll wait for them and b) that your wait will increase your desire to scream and clap when they finally appear onstage. It’s not about ego, but showmanship. Unless we’re talking Kanye showing up for Bonnaroo at sunrise, a crowd usually has more fun when the artist builds anticipation for their arrival. It’s part of the game.
Besides, it’s not like you’d accidentally confuse the backing band with the star of the show. At least not in the case of Perfume Genius. After Hadreas' backing band -- dressed in all black -- set the stage with an atmospheric instrumental vamp, Hadreas himself sauntered onstage in a gold silk suit with leaf-shaped embroidery. As expected, the applause was loud. No shade intended towards Hadreas' incredibly skilled backing band, but it was clear who the crowd wanted to see.
Which isn’t to say that Hadreas lorded above the crowd like some distant star. In fact, Hadreas seemed to give himself to the crowd completely, dancing quickly back and forth across the stage, leaving no corner of the crowd wanting in opportunities to witness his sinuous dance moves up close and personal. Even more, he really bared it all with his vocals. Whether shrieking with puckish glee during “Grid,” or singing in a breathtaking falsetto completely acapella during, “Otherside,” Hadreas went all in. For the latter song, the sold-out crowd of 800 remained absolutely silent.
The crowd remained equally still when Hadreas came out alone for an encore at the end of the night. For most of the encore, he sat alone at a piano at the front of the stage. In contrast to the avalanche of synth and booming bass that had characterized much of his set, which leaned heavily on material from 2017’s explosive No Shape, the first three songs of Hadreas’ encore were notably stripped down. As Hadreas sang "Learning," a simple, painfully beautiful piano ballad that critiques a parent telling his LGBTQ son to "take off that dress," I thought of the context of the night.
Here was an artist in his hometown, where he was once ostracized and physically attacked for being gay, performing songs of pain, joy, and resilience, which ultimately celebrate his sexuality, to raise money for an organization that supports local LGBTQ youth. If that's not a powerful example of music making this city a better place, I don't know what is.
Briana Marela Setlist:
Perfume Genius Setlist:
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