The Shy Reverence of Being Back Together Again…
Towering silver eucalyptus and cascading gold nasturtium cradled the colorful crowd on Pride Sunday. This was the first live music many of the Stern Grove goers had attended since the pandemic. The vibe was a mellow picnic; towels, shawls, and blankets quilted the ground, families and friends gathered carefully upon them. We aren’t quite back to normal yet, but it seems promising.
Donning a bright turmeric yellow tracksuit against the grey sky, Madame Gandhi had swagger. Her band was badass and vibrant. ESG came to mind. Gandhi is a multi-dimensional performer, beating her hand drums over willowy sitar and looping vocal tracks while rapping sweet babely chivalry: messages bashing oppression in repetition against synchronized beats riding a slow pink cloud. “The future is female” is making its way around, and so is the message this artist illuminates. That message, plainly, is: Gender Liberation. Why would we want to get down to the sound of our own oppression? Only 7% of producers and music engineers are women. Misogyny runs deep in the waters of basic radio, and we can do better. Her samples and loops are elevating and celebrating the female voices in the industry. My favorite track was “Yellow Sea”: dreamy, driven, smooth, and sweet. Hypnotically aware, there is liquid in her voice. She dedicated it to the bay, where she will be relocating from L.A. Brilliantly awake, this artist won’t be ignored.
Dancer Sir JoQ stripped off a sweet leather jacket and Vogued the length of the stage. Their high energy dedication was obvious. Vogue isn’t an overnight study or DIY kind of practice. Strike a pose…there’s a lot to it, actually, Madge.
Honey Mahogany is a drag performer, politician, singer, and statuesque goddess. She delivered the Nina Simone standard “Feeling Good” with a guttural yodel shutting down audience chatter. Experiencing a powerful performer post-covid feels almost brand new. Being in a group witnessing one another was widely felt powerful medicine.
With a contagious grin, Dj Lady Ryan spun classic 80’s and soul in between acts.
Matador artist Michael Hadreas started appearing in 2008 under the name “Perfume Genius.” They have been hot fire ever since. Grey and green flannels matched the wooden panels at the heels of the band. This iteration was purposefully ragged around the edges. Sweet and delighted to be on a stage, the Seattle natives made their way to their instruments. Shod in black, Mike Hadreas slithered on stage. Loose-fitting black denim was ensconced in a dingy hanging leather grifters jacket. A simple black tee and cheap alligator shoes. Shaggy, he smeared his hair behind his ears, revealing a drifting expression. He playfully shuffled in his shoes, pleading with a tense croon, while the band charged in with “Your Body Changes Everything.” Ambiguous and puzzling love-making, crouching while making biscuits with his legs within his own voice vortex. He dropped his leather jacket and revealed a lean and muscular machine. Delicately raised arms, mic cord slinky, slow contortion stretched in all directions at once. Sensually down down… Vulnerably detached light jokes and dainty nervous comments. “FUN!” he said.
Next was “Describe,” swaying and walking the mic cord back and forth miming. “On the floor” the cheery mall pop song about domestic abuse. “How Long Til’ My Body is Safe?” is centered with a call to the heavens. He’s a one-man gospel choir. He leaned in No Shape, the 2017 release, and one from 2012, “Normal song.” The new material shone brightly. “Jason” the tale of being with an eager and terrified straight man. “One More Try” cooing through a Twin Peaks dream of self-deception and reconciliation.
When Madreas is stripped down, ghosts of Orbison and Garfunkel can’t help but influence whatever it is he is channeling. He slyly backed himself off the stage with a tattered bouquet and a salute as the band raged and crested slint-like. An incendiary afternoon. It felt real to be back.