John Maus, Peepholes, The Pheromoans @ Scala
John Maus, Peepholes, The Pheromoans
Upset The Rhythm began promoting shows in London nine years ago and are noted champions of the awkward, the noisy and the obscure, particularly those from overseas wanting to test themselves in the UK. It is thanks to them that I have been able to check out acts such as Quintron & Miss Pussycat, Nisennenmondai, Omar Souleyman, Future Islands and tUnE-yArDs live for the first time, and in all these cases, far from the only time.
From 2005 onwards, Upset The Rhythm launched a record label, and possibly their most successful release thus far has been John Maus’ 2011 LP We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves which featured in a number of end-of-year Top 10’s, including my own. Thus it is no surprise that when UTR throw their ‘Summer Shop Window’ label showcase that it is Maus they fly over from Minnesota to headline.
However, as well as getting behind esoteric artists from abroad, UTR are also keen to big up more local turns on their label and support comes from The Pheromoans and Peepholes. The former provide largely shambling nonsense that isn’t nearly as daring and strident as others on the label. However, having ho-hummed through their opening quintet of tunes, they then drop Deport Little John which, like The Coral’s early single Skeleton Key (this was before The Coral fully acquiesced to the requirements of Radio 2), fires off in all directions like a Beefheartian nail bomb. At this point, the drooping eyelids flap back up, startled, like a self-retracting tape measure. More of that please, chaps.
Since checking out their 90 seconds of blissful chaos Ladder on YouTube, I have taken a keen interest in Peepholes. It doesn’t appear in tonight’s set but not to the detriment of it. Peepholes can be a little awkward in their stage craft which isn’t helped here by a fidgety drum set causing continual trouble. However a packed Scala forgive these minor shortcomings and raise the roof on their departure, having been blown away by a peacock display of assertive synths, rattling drums and a psychedelic yelp that nods towards Zombie Zombie and the evening’s headliner. A reception for which the pair look duly humbled.
If Peepholes’ synths-and-singing-drummer duo seems like a spartan operation, then John Maus can certainly trump them on that score, having the same set-up as an X-Factor semi-finalist’s lunchtime PA in a shopping centre: vocal mic, backing tracks at the touch of a button and, err.., that’s it. However this basic staging is enough to stimulate a near riot of wild bouncing abandon, the Maus mania at one point seeing one young lady crawling across the stage for the chance to paw at her hero.
Perhaps she was inspired to offer a comforting shoulder given how much Maus stage behaviour often comes close to cathartic self-flagellation. He beats his chest like a gorilla trying to chase away a safari group. He soaks his vocals in reverb suggesting Ian Curtis in an echo chamber fronting The Normal. He bangs his head like there’s a rubber room somewhere with his name on the door. He bellows repeatedly in the ‘instrumental’ breaks with what I can only describe as triumphant anguish.
Some will look at all this with bafflement but there is no denying that Maus can light a fire in a room. This might be man-and-mic karaoke but the secret to its allure is in the vigour, and violence, of the performance.