John Maus alternatively headbanged and screamed “All your pets are gonna die” onstage at the Rock & Roll Hotel on Saturday night. Maus brought his experimental and medieval-inflected synth pop to the H Street venue, and though he sings only 70 percent of his own lyrics, Maus rocked out and had the sold-out crowd losing their voices with him.
“Pets” comes off Screen Memories (2017), and the lyrics are pure Maus. I won’t try to say where the madness of his lyrics comes from, but the majesty of his music comes from the influence of early synth pop pioneers like The Human League and Ultravox. Like those artists, baroque and medieval influences shine through in his music.
He is on tour for the first time since 2011 and the release of We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves. One of my friends who joined me for the show actually saw Maus on that 2011 tour. I was told to expect that he’d plug in his music and sing along. I love Maus for his nonsense and regal synth pop, but wasn’t sure how I would feel about a karaoke set.
Maus actually performs with a live band this tour, but his role hasn’t changed. Mainly he screams, punches the air and stalks the stage. But after a few bars of the opener “Believer,” I found myself not giving a shit that Maus only sings – and sings over recordings of himself and not even all the lyrics.
He never played the anthem of a generation, but standouts from the night include “Maniac,” “Bennington” and “Time to Die.” Maus’ role as a performer is made clear on the latter. He held his hands over his eyes as he yelled into the microphone.
“It’s time to die / and everybody knows that you can’t ask why / and even if an answered could be supplied / it wouldn’t change the fact that it’s time to die / Listen to your body.”
As text, the lyrics read depressing and the music is spooky. Maus’ knit brow and his sweat-drenched hair and buttondown bear the absolute severity and gravity of a child. But the feeling in the air is euphoria. Maus’ role is almost that of a priest. He is there to experience the music as much as the audience, and to lead the audience through a bit of hysteria to catharsis.
I’m writing this at home with my cat asleep on my lap. Our pets are going to die, but not you, Toulouse; don’t ever die. Meanwhile, go see John Maus rock out to John Maus and experience some mild relief in light of the fact that your pets are going to die. For more of John Maus, listen to him on Spotify, YouTube or Bandcamp.