A number of questions run through your mind during a John Maus concert.
What's he saying? Is he being serious? Is he okay? Isn't this a Kajagoogoo song? Who told that kid dancing up front that was an acceptable haircut?
But one question comes up more than any other — what's the point?
When Maus performs, as he did Tuesday at the Black Cat's backstage, it's like '80s karaoke night minus the hits — plus a hint of crazy. For 25 minutes the 31-year-old electronic music composer stalked the stage, leaped into the air, pulled his hair and howled along to his pre-recorded music that sounded like the third generation audio cassette dub of a long-forgotten new wave band. The way he shouted, flexed and bulged his eyes you half expected his skin to turn green and for him to transform into The Incredible Maus.
His plaid shirt and blue jeans remained intact and his hair only slightly mussed, though. Maus may have been acting like a "Maniac" (the name of one of his interchangeable electro romps) but he looks like a normal guy. That must be part of his appeal to the small-but-enthusiastic, and mostly underage audience members that pushed up against the Black Cat stage on Tuesday. He's just a guy making his own music and acting slightly insane. At least he is putting some energy into the performance. That's more than can sometimes be said for one-time collaborator Ariel Pink, who has earned a reputation as a disinterested and combative performer.
But do over-the-top antics automatically make for a memorable show? That's truly all there was to Maus's performance. Each song was set into motion with the touch of a single button, as easy as going to the fifth floor in an elevator. He composed and created the synth-heavy songs he sang along with. They were fleeting headphone diversions from his new album "We Must Becomes the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves," that carry no extra weight when "performed" live. The words were also indistinguishable, buried in the now-standard layers of reverb and delay favored in the indie underground.
One of the few words that was easily understood was the title of set closer "Believer." It almost seemed like a challenge. Should we take Maus at face value? Or is it all some sort of double-secret-post-ironic-meta performance art?
Or is not even worth pondering?