There’s history in the walls of Camden’s Electric Ballroom. Standing since 1938, the room has played host to Prince, Joy Division, The Smiths, Talking Heads… the list goes on. Tonight, that history is tangible. There’s no need for the posters covering every inch of the room’s walls to remind you of The Good Old Days, tonight John Maus transports everyone in attendance back.
There’s an almost indescribable atmosphere in the air at a John Maus show. As he sweats, headbangs and sways his way into opener, ‘Castles In The Grave’ a change comes over the room. There’s something about his pure energy, his unwavering passion and love for his craft that takes hold of his audience and performs something strange, almost like time travel.
It’s reminiscent of a simpler time, a time when people readily gave over every inch of themselves to live performance, free of self-awareness or reservation. Like a punk show in slow motion John Maus radiates honest, visceral emotion across the room and people are free to follow his lead and let go.
Anyone looking for recreations of Maus’ gloomy avant-garde synth-pop productions on record though may be at the wrong show. John Maus live is a very different beast. On record, Maus’ vocals are muted, almost buried with spacious, echoing stretches of melodic synths and odd electronic percussion. Live, the gaps are gone, replaced by powerful screams of passion and when he’s not forgoing lyrics for guttural, in-the-moment cries his vocals are high in the mix, centre stage.
After a brief pause the encore brings things down to earth a little more – the absurd malice of ‘Cop Killer’, though still peppered with echoing screams, stays truer to it’s structure, it’s woozy synths melding with the eerie intensity of the lyrics to create a performance that hypnotises whist standing on knife-edge.
Closer ‘Do Your Best’ is Maus’ at his most beautiful, all that drive and intensity is given a wash of teary-eyed euphoria that softens his edges and brings this performance crashing back down to earth. For a performer and songwriter still operating in the fringes with an almost cult-like following it’s important to note for those who might not be aware that Maus is an artist like no other, nobody gives more and as a result his live show is one of the most powerful experiences going.