John Maus appears to be a man in the middle of a nervous breakdown while on stage.
John Maus appears to be a man in the middle of a nervous breakdown while on stage. If the catharsis Maus reaches each evening is an act, the man deserves an Oscar. When I last saw Maus in support of his 2011 album, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, the Minnesota-born musician played Portland’s Doug Fir. All alone, the music coming courtesy of a backing track, Maus bounced from song to song while screaming, shouting and beating himself in the head with the microphone.
In front of a sold-out crowd at the much-larger Revolution Hall, Maus played a set featuring many of his best-loved songs, dipping deep not only into Pitiless Censors, but material from his rarities collection, despite touring in support of new album, Screen Memories. Backed this time by a band (his merch features the tongue-in-cheek slogan, “I saw John Maus and Some Other Guys LIVE!), Maus may have been less frenetic than his Doug Fir show, but he turned in a performance just as intense. Clad in a button-up shirt and baggy jeans that wouldn’t look out of place on a computer programmer, shaggy hair almost covering his eyes, Maus led the crowd through a set of pure danceable, emotional madness.
Five years had passed since Maus toured or released any music. Maybe that’s how much time Maus needs before he is reinvigorated enough to work himself up to performing again. Kicking off the show with “Castles in the Grave,” it didn’t take long for sweat to begin pouring off Maus. While he performs, the singer appears to tense every muscle in his body to the point where even raising his fist in the air is a shaky effort. Every song became an exorcism, the cool synths a rumbling burble behind his half-shouted, half-sung vocals.
The sold-out crowd roiled and pushed towards the stage, dancing in ecstatic bursts to Maus’ songs such as “Bennington” and “Cop Killer.” The presence of a backing band, including live drums, has allowed Maus to truly expand the sound of his stage show. The songs now sound full-bodied and alive, even if Maus uses icy synth as the first line of defense. The band brought new life to songs such as “…And the Rain,” filling in the empty spaces Maus couldn’t fill with his solo stage antics the last time around.
The audience responded to Maus’ manic energy in kind. A guy right up front ripped off his shirt as soon as the show started, while a woman, clearly rolling on ecstasy, worked her way up to the stage, fondling and hugging everyone on her way. When she and the shirtless guy connected, they began to passionately kiss and fall about the crowd until security kicked the fella out. I am pretty sure I saw the girl’s lip pout after her newfound lover had been removed.
By the time Maus finished the show with a stirring version of “Believer,” he was completely drenched through with sweat. He barely addressed the crowd beyond the lyrics of his songs, but that was fine. The amount of effort John Maus puts into one of his shows is appreciation enough.