Words by / Ben Cardillo
John Maus’s brother, Joseph Maus, died suddenly while on tour July 28th of last year. He was Maus’s touring bassist, and the pair were in Cesia, Latvia when Joseph passed. I never had the pleasure of seeing Joseph perform with John on stage, but fans say he was an incredible bassist. Since Josephs’s death, John’s live act has consisted solely of him and a microphone. However, the bare stage does not detract from Maus’s set as his raw emotion fills the void of backing instruments and musicians. I had the privilege to see John Maus in all his synth-rock glory on Friday, February 22nd, and it was one of the greatest concerts I have been to.
I began listening to John Maus around the time his brother passed, and instantly fell in love. One of my favorite memories listening to John Maus was on an overnight bus traveling from Amsterdam to France. The whole bus was asleep while I listened to “And the Rain...” and “Keep Pushing On” on repeat, staring off into the dark Belgian countryside. A midnight bus is one of the best settings to listen to John Maus which probably describes his music better than any bullshit sub-genre labeling. No other contemporary artist is able to blend absurdist lyrics about killing cops, giving rights to gay people, and time travel into to synthy lo-fi bliss, save maybe his label mate Ariel Pink. While I am not too sympathetic towards America’s current police force, John Maus is the only musician outside of 80’s political punk to make me sing along to lyrics about murdering them.
Maus has release five albums: Songs (2006), Love is Real (2007), We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves (2011), Screen Memories (2017), and Addendum (2018). He also released a compilation album titled A Collection of Rarities and Previously Unreleased Material (2012) which is composed of unreleased material reaching as far back as 1999. It also includes the fan-favorite “Bennington.” If you are looking to start listening to John Maus, We Must Become... is probably the best place to start as it is his most polished and accessible record.
As invisible as it is, John Maus’s influence on 2000’s indie scene is undeniable. Maus has toured and collaborated with bands including Animal Collective, one of the most progressive and influential pop-oriented bands of the decade. Ariel Pink, a bedroom-pop pioneer, is also a repeat collaborator with Maus. The pair’s styles can easily be seen in each other’s work.
Sailor Poon, a local Austin feminist punk band, opened for John Maus. Sailor Poon played loud and fast with their lead singer screaming about everything from female body hair to the insecurity of white males. The act’s lyrical and musical content can be directly compared to bands like Bratmobile and Bikini Kill. They truly upheld the feminist punk tradition with a killer (and very very loud) live set. I regret not bringing some earplugs because my ears were ringing the whole next day.
After a brief intermission, John Maus emerged from backstage with no introduction from the venue or from himself. He knelt and began the backing instrumental for “My Whole World’s Coming Apart” which instantly energized the crowd. I was not expecting the the crowd to be as lively as it was, but I was pleasantly surprised. I was situated only a few people back from the stage, and I was instantly crushed between those in front of and behind me. But it was okay because I was able to see every expression on Maus’s face.
A few songs after “My Whole World’s Coming Apart,” Maus played “Rights for Gays.” The song is essentially a repetition of the phrase “Right now, rights for gays, oh yeah” but its comical simplicity makes it one of Maus’s best and another fan favorite. Maus spared no time between each song, never speaking directly to the crowd. The unrelenting assault of songs kept the energy of the crowd going for the duration of his set. “Cop Killer” had about 500 twenty-somethings shouting about how they were going to kill ALL of the cops that night, and the empowering lyrics of “Keep Pushing On” still resonate with me after hearing it live. Maus’s performance of “Believer,” the closing track on We Must Become... and the closing track of the concert, was the highlight. This was mainly because I was able to see over the crowd as I surfed on it, but Maus screaming into the microphone about how Hulk Hogan and Jackie Chan were “flashing all across the world” was surreal.
The concert was as cathartic for me as it was for John Maus. Throughout the concert he pounded his chest with the microphone, looking like he was going to cry. He hit himself in the face as his blue button-up shirt slowly became increasingly sweaty. It was truly one of the most emotional
performances I have witnessed. After “Believer,” Maus left without saying a word while everyone in the crowd processed the concert.