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Sweet smell of success follows Perfume Genius to the Gorge

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 9, 2021

Perfume Genius, birth name Michael Hadreas, opens for Tame Impala at the Gorge Amphitheatre on Friday.  (Gilles Laurent)
Perfume Genius, birth name Michael Hadreas, opens for Tame Impala at the Gorge Amphitheatre on Friday. (Gilles Laurent)

The Gorge Amphitheatre provided solace for Michael Hadreas, who suffered through a difficult childhood in Seattle during the 1990s. Hadreas, who is best known by his stage name Perfume Genius, came out in high school. “It was a giant relief to tell my parents that I was gay when I was 14,” Hadreas said while calling from his Los Angeles home. “But it didn’t make it easy in school.”

Hadreas was ridiculed and beaten by schoolmates as the lone student who was out. However, the singer-songwriter-pianist escaped via live music performance at the Gorge. Appearances at the stunning venue by recording artists such as David Bowie and Radiohead changed Hadreas’ life. “I’ll never forget seeing Radiohead (in June 2001),” Hadreas said. “That was an unbelievable show.”

Hadreas has performed at the Gorge on the side stage at the late, lamented Sasquatch! Music Festival but will make his debut Friday on the big stage when he opens for Tame Impala. “It’s going to be amazing performing in front of that incredible backdrop,” Hadreas said. “I never dreamed of playing anywhere let alone on that stage at the Gorge. It’s hard to believe I’ll be there.”

In terms of musical accomplishment, performing at the Gorge is hardly a stretch for Hadreas, who didn’t pursue a career as a singer-songwriter until he was in his late 20s. His 2010 debut, the aptly titled “Learning,” is filled with delicate, dark and moving confessional tunes such as the catchy “Gay Angels” and “Never Did.” The glam rocker, who has a way with piano ballads, reaches another echelon with his fifth album, “Set My Heart on Fire Immediately,” which was released in 2020.

The breakthrough project, which features a number of poignant, electronic ballads, is as urgent as its title suggests. Hadreas is at his best penning elegant songs, which are also intense. “I owe so much to Blake Mills (Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes), who did such a great job producing this album,” Hadreas said. “I fully trust Blake. I fully trust his taste and ability. We’re very different, and maybe that’s a good thing. He’s technically a good player. He knows much more about music than I do. I’m more of a hippie.

The combination works since “Set My Heart on Fire Immediately” is sadly beautiful with songs that are lush, passionate and at times border on hypnotic. It will be a nice contrast from Tame Impala’s heavier synth-driven material. “I can’t wait to go on tour with Tame Impala,” Hadreas said. “I’m a big fan. I’ve never met (Tame Impala singer-songwriter) Kevin (Parker), but I know it’s going to be an amazing time now that I’ll be back on the road.”

Hadreas was relatively inactivity during the pandemic. “I didn’t write much,” Hadreas said. “I wasn’t very productive during the lockdown. … Either people that say they were productive are lying, or they are much better than me. I went through a transitory period, probably like a lot of people, but I’m feeling good and creative right now as I’m about to go on the road.”

Expect an energetic performance from Hadreas. “I’m going to have fun out there,” Hadreas said. “I always have a good time when I perform. I hope I can dance. I’m a little rusty, but I’ll move it when I get onstage. I’m young enough to make it work.” Hadreas turns 40 in two weeks but isn’t concerned with age.

“It’s just a number, isn’t it?” Hadreas said. “I also look young. I’ve always looked younger than how old I am. I’m getting older, but I don’t feel like I’m older. The funny thing is that I have a job that is all about having an extended adolescence. In so many ways, I’m like a kid, which I think is a good thing in music.”

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