Perfume Genius at Stern Grove, by Patric Carver

Perfume Genius (photo: Patric Carver)

I have a new hobby I want to tell you all about. It’s being earnest with my late-stage pandemic emotions.
Look, I get it. We’re all supposed to be cool. We’re supposed to rise above the banal chit-chat and repetitious conversations. We’re totally hip.

Except, now that we’ve been living like teenagers grounded by the wrath of infectious disease for over a year, I simply cannot contain my joy that it is getting safer and safer for people to gather together. I’m going to remark how crazy it is to see people in person — every time. Probably multiple times in the same gathering.

Amongst the throngs of people gathered in Stern Grove on Sunday, I was not alone in my inability to contain my joy. Before launching into a flawless set, opening act Madame Gandhi walked out onto the stage and declared, “I’m just a few days away from my cycle; I might just burst right out in tears right here.”

Madame Gandhi spoke about gender liberation which such passion and precision that the absurdness of gender-based oppression came fully into focus. Speaking of the abundance of sexism in popular music she said, “I don’t want to have to turn up to the sound of my own oppression.” She preached directly to the proverbial choir in front of her and, like a good congregation, the crowd was receptive.

At one point she said, “I’m interested in providing an alternative.” Her alternative was a polished but not pretentious set that was as smooth and bright as sunshine on the water. At the end of her performance, she called up a young boy from the audience to dance with her on stage. It felt like all the missing pieces of human connection were falling back into place.

For a lot of Bay Area residents, the Stern Grove Festival signifies summertime. Even though we were feeling a crisp breeze in the grove, Perfume Genius brought the feeling of relaxing on the beach.

At the last show I saw at Stern Grove, in the before times, the lead singer of James was tearing through the crowd and dancing like a man possessed. This was a more subdued affair, and, frankly fitting for society’s re-introduction to itself. It is as if we were all collectively saying, “OK, let’s take this one step at a time.” There were a few folks dancing, and of course the audience showed a quickened pulse at show highlight “Wreath.” However, most people were happy to picnic and enjoy the pleasantness of Perfume Genius. It’s nice not to be in a full-blown, grief-stricken panic all the time, and that’s even more true when you have a good soundtrack to back up your newfound calm.

I know it still isn’t safe for everyone to join us at shows. My heart goes out to those who have conditions that prevent them from being safe in public just yet. The festival, though it seemed bursting with people, was at a diminished capacity compared to years past. I’ve never been a crowds person, but I can’t wait for the day when we can all be together again. This was a great toe in the water, and hopefully a herald of the return we’re all longing for.