One of the most unique voices in music today, John Maus is an enigma. His recordings are willfully lo-fi, and his deep baritone voice stands out enough to be immediately recognizable. After his third album, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, finally got him the critical and fan reception that he deserved, he essentially disappeared for six years. During that time, he completed a PhD in political science (a significant shift from his undergraduate degree in musical composition) and built modular synthesizers. In October of last year, he finally re-emerged with the release of his fourth album, Screen Memories. Saturday night brought him to a sold-out and packed Rock and Roll Hotel for his first DC live appearance since that previous record.
When Maus last came to DC at the Black Cat in 2011, he opted to perform solo singing over pre-recorded backing tracks, a spectacle that he referred to at the time as his “karaoke show.” This time, however, he brought a full band with him. With his brother Joe Maus on bass, Luke Darger on keyboards, and Jonathan Thompson on drums, the show took on a new dimension. But two things that didn’t change in the six-year gap were Maus’s demeanor and his intensity. Throughout the set he shouted, pounded at his chest and his forehead, and pulled at his shirt, a man possessed.
Oddly, Maus focused very little of his set on the new record, playing only two songs from it – “Touchdown” and “Pets.” Instead, it was We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves that got the most attention, with nearly half of the album including “The Crucifix,” “Quantum Leap,” and “Cop Killer” making up a full third of the fifteen-song set. Other hightlights included “Rights for Gays” and “Do Your Best” from 2007’s Love Is Real, “Maniac” and “Time To Die” from 2006’s Songs, and a look back to some of his earliest material with “Time Is Weird” from 2000’s self-released CD-R Love Letters From Hell.
Psychedelic garage rocker Gary War opened the show with an all-too-short set, playing songs from his new album Gaz Forth, which had been released the previous day.