Perfume Genius makes awkwardness endearing at Mad Cool festival 2018

Despite technical problems, Mike Hadreas and band produce one of the weekend's most poised and powerful sets

The odds feel somewhat stacked against Perfume Genius at Madrid’s Mad Cool tonight. Appearing right before Arctic Monkeys, and performing on the other side of the enormous festival site, he’s up against the weekend’s (and, arguably, the whole summer’s) biggest draw. Technical gremlins then plague the start of the set, with Mike Hadreas and band appearing on stage nearly 20 minutes late and wrestling with their in-ears throughout. It’s testament to Perfume Genius’ power, then, that his set is still as gripping as the very best of them.

As opener ‘Otherside’ flips between twinkling piano and huge, post-rock-esque explosions of noise, Hadreas welcomes each wave of sound by striking a pose, writhing his hips like a man on the prowl. His dancing and vogueing becomes evermore outlandish as the set progresses – ‘Wreath’ from last year’s ‘No Shape’ LP finds him goose-stepping about the stage, while ‘Just Like Love’ allows for some serious body popping, the calypso-like rhythms the perfect accompaniment to an evening which – even as midnight approaches – is still stiflingly hot.

Perfume Genius live at Mad Cool 2018 (Photo: Derek Bremner/NME)

Hadreas, a timid figure between songs, can be seen mumbling to himself throughout the set. He’s an endearingly anxious figure, with crowd chatter kept to a bare minimum. There’s intimacy dotted throughout though – at one point, he smiles and waves to one familiar face in the crowd, while after a rousing rendition of ‘Slip Away’ that finds him pirouetting on the spot, he squeaks a barely audible “te amo” into the mic.

It’s a set defined by Perfume Genius’ alternating bursts of distorted noise and shimmering sound, which are most perfectly exhibited in the intimate-meets-intense flip-flop of ‘My Body’, Hadreas alternating between taking a seat on the drum riser and leaping to his feet, screeching like a banshee. As ‘Queen’ brings things back to earth, Hadreas’ near iconic line “no family is safe when I sashay” (complete with IRL sashaying) echoing out across the field, it’s Perfume Genius’ poise that leaves the most lasting mark. As he hurls his mic to the ground, salutes his throng and blows kisses as he leaves the stage, Mike Hadreas proves himself to be one of modern music’s most endearingly awkward auteurs.