Published Feb 02, 2019Two doctors took the stage at Toronto's Opera House last night, but the results were anything but clinical. While Gabriel Vigliensoni and John Maus both hold Ph.Ds, each turned in visceral sets that belied their academic backgrounds. Between the former's thunderous dance rhythms and the latter's chintzy synth-pop, the crowd was treated to vastly different visions of electronic music.
Vigliensoni led off the evening with six densely layered, beat-forward tracks that made Maus sound anemic by comparison. Packed to the brim with skittering syncopated hi-hats, intricately textured ambience and multi-lingual lyrics, Vigliensoni seemed to adopt new styles with every song. His beats shifted from rigid and mechanical to fluid and hyperactive, before closing with a blitzkrieg of percussion that distantly resembled footwork. By the time he left the stage, Vigliensoni had established an exciting tempo for the rest of the night.
Unfortunately, Maus couldn't capitalize on his opener's energy. Reverting to a karaoke setup after touring with a full band for most of the past two years, the experimental pop star suffered from technical issues that delayed his set by about 40 minutes. He spent most of that time hunched over his equipment, grunting and hissing into his microphone at random intervals. It was a pedestrian start for an artist known for his intense fervour, but Maus quickly rebounded. Launching into the aptly titled "My Whole World's Coming Apart," he instantly won the crowd over, veering from a low hum to a loud yell.
By the end of his next track, "Castles in the Grave," Maus had busted out most of his moves. He would repeat the same gestures for the rest of his time onstage, cycling back and forth between clutching his belt or chest, headbanging emphatically, shimmying his waist, hopping in place and pumping his fists in the air. But as with his vocals and lyrics, Maus's presence was limited yet expressive. His stillness, infrequent but notable on tracks such as "Keep Pushing On," "Sentimental Recollections" and "Do Your Best," emphasized their poignancy amid more exuberant material. Even after 16 songs, he rarely wavered, demonstrating impressive stamina and dedication.
If Maus's energy was the clear highlight of his performance, his voice was a close second. Accompanied only by a backing track, Maus risked duplicating his recorded output if he opted for restraint. Thankfully, he committed fully to each song, transforming them in the process. Rather than intoning ominously on "The Combine," Maus howled incoherently, drawing sympathetic shrieks from the audience. His range became more apparent as well; on "Streetlight" and "Touchdown," his voice rose from his standard mutter to a scream at the top of his register.
Together, Maus's dynamic presence and enhanced vocals elevated a set list full of fan favourites. Bookended with tracks from 2007's Love Is Real and jam-packed with cuts from both 2017's Screen Memories and 2011's We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, the performance rarely lacked the echo of the crowd chanting along. "I'll See Her In My Dreams" met with an especially passionate response, while the audience roiled with raised hands during "Cop Killer." The absence of any banter didn't seem to bother anyone; Maus's commitment was more than enough.
And when that commitment ran out, Maus didn't belabour the point. As he finished "Pets," drenched in sweat with his jaw clenched, he dropped his microphone and stalked offstage, returning only for a one-song encore. It would've been a disappointing ending for a less idiosyncratic artist, but for Maus, it was entirely consistent with every volatile, resonant moment that came before.