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A fitting farewell to summer

Perth Festival review: Perfume Genius and Mama Kin Spender: Perth Festival ·
Wednesday 28 February, 2018 Chevron Gardens ·
Review by Tiffany Ha ·

It was the last eve of February; I probably should have brought a cardigan. On the main stage of the Chevron Gardens stood Mama Kin Spender and the WAAPA Gospel Choir (dazzling in golden robes), ready to deliver a rockin’ send off to summer.

Mama Kin Spender
Infectious stripped-down alt-rock tunes and their luscious harmonies: Mama Kin on lead vocals and percussion, with Mama Kin Spender. Photo: Cam Campbell.

Mama Kin Spender is the musical project of three long-time friends – Fremantle’s Mama Kin (Danielle Caruana) on lead vocals and percussion with Melbourne-based musos Tommy Spender on guitar and vocals and Virginia Bott as choir director and arranger. The on-stage chemistry between these three was delicious – so genuine, alive and heart-warming. You could easily imagine all the jokes, the unspoken truces, and the late-night shenanigans that fuel their collaborations. These friends simply get each other – whether it’s knowing first-hand the subject matter of a bluesy confessional dirge, or flashing cheeky grins at one another during a rock ‘n’ roll number about “wanting to climb someone like a tree”.

The WAAPA Gospel Choir added impressive depth to the show. The two musical groups formed such a remarkable symbiosis in the short time they were together (only two days of rehearsal and sixty minutes on stage!) that it felt almost magical. They had the crowd swaying with their infectious stripped-down alt-rock tunes and their luscious harmonies, evoking PJ Harvey and The Dirty Projectors. The choir had their time in the spotlight too, performing a glorious rendition of “Lily In The Valley”, which Mama Kin liked so much that it made her “clench [her] butt cheeks”.

If the opening act was the sun rising over Chevron Gardens – bright and joyous with arms outstretched to the world – then Perfume Genius (Mike Hadreas plus band) was the fitting spectacular (WA-style) sunset. What better way to farewell a season of endless balmy night-time entertainment than with Hadreas’ signature stage persona? His voice is powerfully vulnerable and he has a hypnotic, seductive way of twisting and moving around on stage.

Hadreas and his band opened with ‘Otherside’, the first track off their latest album, No Shape. The delicate piano arpeggiation and quiet crooning lulled us into a false sense of calm, before our nervous systems were jolted to life by a thunderous explosion of drums, synth, and distorted guitar – accented by brightly flashing stage lights, against which Hadreas’ lithe silhouette could be seen. Majestic in a cropped brown Victorian-era military jacket and black harem pants, his demeanour fluctuated between coquettish and commanding, depending on the song.

The set-list spanned the intimate confessional numbers like ‘Die 4 You’ (recalling ’90s trip-hop band Portishead); the cool, sophisticated ones like ‘Run Me Through’ (which Hadreas says was inspired by Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis); the whimsical ditties like ‘Valley’; the seriously dark songs like ‘My Body’ and the explosively defiant anthems which have been embraced by fans in the queer community, like ‘Queen’ and ‘Slip Away’.

Perfume Genius tests audiences with unconventional song structures; sometimes a song will trail off into an extended section of ambience or noise, without a hook in sight; other times boundaries are pushed with irregular drum beats, harsh screaming vocals and moments where Hadreas retreats into himself, murmuring under his breath, slowly curling into a back bend while heavily-reverbed sounds wash around him. But these difficult moments are worth it, because the band rewards us on the other side with triumphant, glittering chords, sumptuous layers of rhythmic texture and Hadreas’ lovely tenor voice having undergone some sort of heroic transformation on stage.

After Perfume Genius’ epic set, which dealt with grief, shame, longing and oblivion – followed by songs about love, self-acceptance, solidarity and discovery – I finally felt ready to say goodbye to summer, to festivals, to excitement. I felt less saddened by the imminent cool weather, marking the beginning of city’s cultural hibernation until next summer. Because I was reminded that no one can stop the turning of the seasons, inside or out.

Mike Hadreas certainly knows this; it’s how he made his art.

Top: A hypnotic and seductive Mike Hadreas fronting Perfume Genius. Photo: Cam Campbell.