American synthpop artist John Maus stood centre stage and howled.
Alone on stage, John’s baritone screams echoed over his backing music and throughout Brisbane’s The Zoo (24 August).
Years of silence passed after the release of his 2011 album ‘We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves’, mostly spent working in academia. Now with new music, the cult musician returned to Brisbane, where an overflowing crowd pushed against each other to be closer to the stage and hear John roar again.
Footage of rain was projected on the screen behind local musician Andrew Tuttle. The scenery changed as Andrew’s set progressed, changing to a boat ride, the city at night, and rainforests.
Andrew provided a pleasant soundtrack to the journey, swapping between acoustic guitar and banjo as he splashed jaunty melodies to the ambient synths trickling from his laptop.
Chords floated from the synthesiser of Purple Pilgrims’ Valentine Nixon. Alongside her sister Clementine, the New Zealand duo played slow, dreamy pop coated in dollops of reverb. Valentine’s voice stretched a low moan to wailing, asking “Do you trust me, darling” as Clementine’s guitar quivered beneath the ethereal songs.
Tempos drifted slowly, but the crowd were lulled closer, swaying to their bewitching waltz.
Simplicity is the key to the music of John Maus; drum machines thumped like machines on a factory floor as John repeated phrases like “Rights for gays! Oh yeah!”.
But the minimalism of his songs allowed for what became primal scream therapy. He grabbed at his chest, face scrunched up, and screaming for as long as his lungs allowed. Screams gave way to more physical acts, from pogoing to his beats to closing his fist and repeatedly punching himself in the face, acts that had fans in disbelief.
With backing music instead of a band, the stage gave room for more of John’s physicality. A patch of sweat appeared on his chest, growing with every song. His shirt became drenched, and droplets flicked from his hair during his awkward headbanging.
Fans climbed high to see above the crowd, pulling out phones to capture the mayhem, putting them away when they were overcome by the mechanical pulse of ‘Touchdown’.
“Your pets are gonna die,” John moaned on ‘Pets’. He repeated the phrase, punctuating it with screams and yelps. The drop of his mic sent a clunk over the speakers, acting as a starting pistol for his sprint from one end of the stage to the other.
It’s another ridiculous display of endurance, but John Maus is a star who refuses to burn out.