The first time I witnessed John Maus was in the upstairs of a crumbling pub in Sheffield in 2007. I’d happened upon the flyer and gone along not knowing what to expect. I was pleasantly alarmed, especially when halfway through the set, the ceiling collapsed and chalky slabs of plaster crashed down around him. Undeterred, he played on and the phrase HARDCORE seemed to flash on and off like a neon light in my head.
He re-entered my consciousness just last year when, one full-mooned night, a friend linked me to Maus’ rendition of ‘Hey Moon’ by Molly Nilsson. It was to my eardrums what the most thirst quenching drink is to the throat. I can listen to it tirelessly and it seems to align itself with my mood like a magical chameleon song, and by now I’ve realised just how excellent all of his musical creations are.
Last night’s Upset the Rhythm show was something I’d been looking forward to for at least five weeks so we arrive there early, too early in fact; the Scala’s doors hadn’t even opened, but at least we got to stake out a brilliant viewing spot on a beer-damp step and experience some excellent bonus material from synth laden support acts Peepholes and The Pheromoans.
Of course, once John Maus was onstage, you could understand why they were the support acts. Personifying the word ‘primitive’ over any musician I’ve ever seen live, Maus was like the leader of a wolf pack, howling wildly, the Pied Piper of the wonder struck spectators whose response included crowd surfing, stage crashing and sheer cries of ‘arrrrgggh’.
The set was a whirlwind of back-to-back hits from Maus’ backlog featuring ‘Quantum Leap’, ‘Castles in the Grave’ and the dreamy reverb world of ‘Do Your Best’, all whilst Maus feverishly hurled from one end of the stage to the other thrashing his head back and forth, his sweat-soaked hair precipitating over the front row fortunates (‘…And The Rain Came Down’). At times, Maus just stood there with an agonised look of despair on his face and at other times he just pointed at people in the crowd from one to another whilst singing.
Pounding his forehead and air punching like a bewildered, extraverted genius child frustrated with the constraints of regular communication, it was like a maniacal communion, the throbbing crowd fighting to reach out and hear the voice of their leader. ‘Believer’ brought the show to a euphoric denouement; the brilliance stopping dully without an encore and a shell-shocked audience left processing what they had just beheld. It was John Maus, a magnificent maniac.