If Maus mirrors any rock icon onstage, it's Ian Curtis of Joy Division, with his button-down shirts, melodramatic baritone and spellbindingly inelegant style of dance. "I don't see how this is sustainable," a friend said to me two songs into Maus's concert last week at Festsaal Kreuzberg in Berlin. I knew what he meant. Maus had played it cool for the first track, a song few in the room seemed to recognize, but started letting loose during "Streetlight," the opening track from 2011's We Must Become Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves. From then on, he never let up. Moving to the post-punk rhythms and baroque synth melodies that make up his oeuvre (played on this tour, for the first time, by a backing band), Maus winced and gnashed his teeth, headbanged from the waist up, smacked the side of his face with his fist, and—my personal favorite—thrashed both fists back and forth in front of him, as if shaking an invisible man by the lapels. By the fourth song, patches of sweat darkened his shirt. By the end of the show, he'd be drenched and missing a few buttons.
A few songs in particular got big reactions, like "The Combine," "Touchdown," "Rights For Gays," and most of all "Cop Killer," possibly Maus's strangest track. The surprise of the night for me was "Decide Decide," a wispy ballad from Screen Memories that landed perfectly here. The crowd was into it—at times the front-center of the dance floor frothed over into something approaching a mosh pit. Still, it felt like some of Maus's frantic energy was lost in the big-ish space. I couldn't help but imagine how good this would be in a small, chaotic venue, with low ceilings and a low (or nonexistent) stage. I also wondered if I'd have preferred Maus's pre-live band show, when it was just him essentially doing karaoke to his own songs—an absurd approach that would seem to suit his music. But he's too big now for either of those things, and he's still got more than enough personality for a big stage. As the last note resonated and the band slunk away, Maus, rather than waving or say thank you, faced the crowd, winced, and held his fists to his chest.