Electronic savant John Maus inspires cult in gripping Orlando show

click to enlarge John Maus at the Social - Jen Cray
Jen Cray
John Maus at the Social
THIS LITTLE UNDERGROUND
John Maus and Nick Nicely, The Social, Feb. 15

Minnesota electronic savant John Maus is both enigma and phenomenon. His lyrics don’t necessarily reveal it, and his musical palette is immersive enough to just bask in the halo, but Maus’ synth-pop seems to suggest some deep conceptual underpinning. Rather than the straight-style mimicry of many of his contemporaries, his angle is informed by some head-spinning theory. Or maybe not.

click to enlarge John Maus at the Social - Jen Cray
Jen Cray
John Maus at the Social
These are the questions that his art constantly stirs. Is it intrinsically high-concept or are we projecting it onto the music because of the man, a doctor of political science who's apt to talk esoterica casually? Well, only Maus himself can attest for sure, and he's a source of some opacity. Regardless, however far-fetched some of the discussion surrounding it is, the music itself has undeniable and objective allure.

click to enlarge John Maus at the Social - Jen Cray
Jen Cray
John Maus at the Social
His experimental electronic vision is a compelling blend of dour new wave sensibility, cinematic vista and outsider streak. Belying the sleek, atmospheric restraint of his recordings, however, his live performance is distinguished by impressive fits of mania and intensity that, were they any less on beat, could be mistaken for something neurological. For whatever informs its philosophy, the nature of Maus' stage act is purely primitive, communicating through sheer physicality. It’s spectacle enough to overcome even the lack of any live playing.

click to enlarge John Maus at the Social - Jen Cray
Jen Cray
John Maus at the Social
click to enlarge John Maus at the Social - Jen Cray
Jen Cray
John Maus at the Social

The music and the singing are no doubt good, but the John Maus experience wouldn’t be what it is if it were delivered with only cool reticence in place of his famously violent, self-punching rapture. The real marvel of what’s happening here, though, is the depth of connection. His show isn’t just some gawk-baiting burlesque but rather impetus to get unchained along with him. His beautifully fanatical following here demonstrated that with raw movement, returning his primal screams en masse. Seeing him in concert is to know that John Maus has a cult. And their truth is physical.

click to enlarge John Maus at the Social - Jen Cray
Jen Cray
John Maus at the Social
Opening was Nick Nicely, the seminal underground hero from England who broke out in the early 1980s. If you were unaware of his deep psych pedigree before, then the head shroud he wore the entire performance should’ve certified at least some of his weirdo cred.

click to enlarge Nick Nicely at the Social - Jen Cray
Jen Cray
Nick Nicely at the Social
click to enlarge Nick Nicely at the Social - Jen Cray
Jen Cray
Nick Nicely at the Social
With an accompanist on bass and electronics, he transmitted songs that were like passages across dimension and space. The live guitars, burrowing bass lines and warped vocals were flanked by late-night dance beats, acid electronics and kinetic video projections. The totality was a trigger of sense and consciousness that would be at home in a chill-out room of any rave (a thought that, though perfectly logical, would no doubt upset a lot of psych-rock purists). And hearing "Hilly Fields" live was pretty special.

click to enlarge Nick Nicely at the Social - Jen Cray
Jen Cray
Nick Nicely at the Social
click to enlarge Nick Nicely at the Social - Jen Cray
Jen Cray
Nick Nicely at the Social
Follow Bao on Twitter (@baolehuu)
Email Bao: [email protected]

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