Photo credit: Mark ‘Harry’ Harris
The community social club charm of The Dome juxtaposed with the 300-or-so try-hards buzzing around tonight is somehow splendidly fitting for such an occasion as tonight’s line-up. It’s an inspired booking of such a scarcely employed venue by promoters Upset The Rhythm, and sets the tone for the dream bill for the off-kilter pop crowd.
Londoner Maria Minerva opens with her haunting etherealisms, and then it’s over to the Yanks, with Gary War sandwiched awkwardly between her and the headliner, and with an indisputable artistic symmetry linking the three.
But while his recent Police Water EP was a chart-pop classic from an uncomfortable parallel universe, in live environs the underlying allure is lost, leaving just the pretentions, and exposing G War (a masterstroke, that) as a charlatan and more than a bit of a cock.
It would take a bold individual to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the art on show in here, and that’s not likely to happen, so you’re left with a quarter of the room unshakeable in their belief that they’re witnessing genius, while the remainder either struggle to hold it together or pretend it’s not happening.
If it’s a more focussed critique you want, War sets up his backing track, plays a guitar that’s inaudible over the preset if indeed it’s even plugged in, and kind of joins in with it. It’s like Andrew WK without the pomp and budget and fake blood, and it’s shit.
Conversely, John Maus is the real deal; a Professor of Philosophy and Hawaii resident, he’s genuinely uncomfortable in the spotlight, and his agitated on-stage persona is by no means affected. A sometime Ariel Pink collaborator, he’s three albums in, and his live shows – a statement on live performance, so a performance within a performance if you will – have a reputation that makes this opportunity to see it happen one to be cherished and fully absorbed.
He takes to the stage and, aside from his height, there’s nothing particularly striking – plain shirt and jeans, sensible haircut (which puts him in a small group in this room) – but straight away he’s transformed into as menacing, intense and peculiarly charismatic a frontman as you’re likely to encounter this side of pretend metal.
Much like our foe Mr. War, it’s one guy and a backing track, though Maus wisely eschews the prop musical instrument and instead channels his energies – and I mean every drop of them, as evidenced by the state of his shirt within the first five minutes – into manic, jerky movements that start and stop as the set does.
But where Maus excels, and where the stark contrast with his immediate support lies, is in the strength of his material – and not just enough to overcome the unavoidable and lazy slights that he’s just a sideshow curiosity, but proper songs of substance.
And never more so than with ‘Believer’, the closer on latest offering We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, which makes a welcome appearance toward the end; tonight it reaffirms the suspicion that it might just be the pop song of the year.
It also provides a snapshot of what’s been an astonishing show by one of the few genuinely unique talents on the landscape.