Live Music Review: Mae @ The Social, Orlando, FL; April 1 and 2, 2022

Posted by Greg on Apr 8, 2022 in Music |

It’s been nearly 20 years since the Norfolk, VA band Mae burst into the emo/alt rock scene of the early 2000s with their Tooth + Nail debut Destination Beautiful. Since that time the band has seen members depart, released five albums and have cultivated livelihoods and families beyond just Mae. Most notably vocalist/guitarist/founder Dave Elkins is a Nashville producer and songwriter and guitarist Zach Getting is a college professor and vinyl retailer. New members of the band include the likes of:

Aaron Lachtman (bass, formerly of Tokyo)
Josh Grigsby (drums, formerly of Houston Calls)
Kipp Wilde (keys, formerly of Windsor Drive)

Though their days of touring consistently are now behind them that didn’t stop Gehring and Elkins from bringing Mae to Orlando FL last weekend. Over the course of two nights at The Social the quintet played their first two albums from front to back. 

Night one showcased the aforementioned Destination: Beautiful while the second and final night featured the band’s sophomore album The Everglow. Despite how sporadic and infrequent Mae tours are becoming the quintet found a way to make the sets compelling, expertly crafted and most importantly impacting.. Much of that was in due part to guest violinist Emily Misura who flew down from Canada to join the band for the performances. Despite having never played live with the band or having rehearsed with the band her contributions were profound and one of the weekend’s most lasting contributions.

Night One highlights included instrumental “Futuro” on the heels of sterling, air-tight opener “Tisbury Lane” and “Sun” with an extended violin intro from Misura. Other than a ho-hum version of “Last Call” the rest of the set was at or near the apex of the band’s strengths. While vocalist/guitarist Elkins and guitarist Gehring can probably play many of these songs in their sleep it was the contributions of the others that lit the night on fire. Bassist Lachtman had only played with the band once before and yet never once did he seem to wobble or stumble. Ditto for Misura. Despite being a long time fan and friend of the band, she had never played with Mae until that night. Her recollection of the band’s songs was potent, most especially when her violin returned with a splash on the band’s now ubiquitous “Summertime.” While the inclusion felt a bit unexpected and awkward at first, it ended up being one of the high moments of the entire set. For an album that is nearly 20 years old the band never sounded fresher, crisper and more urgent. Despite not preparing for an encore the band did indulge fans and come back for a two-part encore of “Bloom” and “Suspension’ with Elkins going so much as to say; “If you’ll be here tomorrow night, you’ll hear these.’

Opening up Night One was South Florida based Woolbright whose female fronted garage punk was craggy, howling and dynamic. Highlghts lincluded “Pillowtop” “Best Shot” and album closer “Eric.” Frontwoman Candice Maritato was also quick to point out the need for compassion and tolerance while also highlighting the selfless work done by workers in the hospital industry. Her message went farther though documenting her own struggle with mental health and the constant neglect we often give to our own bodies and minds. That kind of moxie and fortitude is not often seen from an opening band and was easily one of the coolest parts about the night.

Night Two highlights included “Tisbury Lane” once again in the opening slot followed expertly by the sublime “Bloom.” Of all the songs from the Morning/Afternoon/Evening EPs this one seems to be the one the band gravitates towards the most and after hearing it this past weekend it’s easy to see why. Crisp, rejuvenating and deeply affecting it’s a song that decades from now just might stand the test of time as one of Mae’s bests.

With an album as string-laden as The Everglow, Misura’s ever-present violin predictably veered towards the spotlight. Her contributions were most prominently felt on “We’re So Far Away,” “Ocean”, “Breakdown”, “The Everglow” and near-perfect album closer “The Sun and the Moon.” Being that much of The Everglow is adorned with strings much of these placements were no surprise but hearing them live and in such an intimate setting as The Social was quite truly breathtaking. One of those nights where you’re glad you made the commitment of time to attend and be part of the spectacle.

Elkins was jovial throughout even explaining that “Mistakes We Knew We Were Making” was inspired by the likes of a line from Dave Eggars’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. He also went further to say that while the line was culled from the Eggers book the song’s motif is an enhancement on The Everglow theme of a young couple finding new love and the hills and valleys that come with. He also joked that “Breakdown” was written for a high school friend but that the haze of old age has distorted the actual chain of events that led to the writing of the song. In terms of crowd-pleasers “Somebody Else’s Arm” with the wall-to-wall crowd singing the last 60 seconds in unison and a furious outro at the end of “Cover Me.” Those two songs are worth remembering because they very much felt like uncovering a time capsule. Not that long ago songs like this dominated radio and blogospheres and flooded North America and the world over. That sound seems very much distant and foreign these days and for two brief 90 minute sets Mae reminded all in attendance why songs crafted that way still very much matter.

Opening for Mae on Night Two was Orlando’s own Expert Timing. The quartet had not played a show in Orlando since before the pandemic and was also debuting new material. Their position on the bill helped electrify and fill the venue shorlty after doors opened. Their cheery breed of sun-drenched garage pop was highlighted by spiky opener “Special Hell”, sugary and sweet “Never See Me Again” and the near perfect “Nervous Wreck” and “Homesick Hearts.” A good chunk of the set was peppered with new material from the band’s latest LP, which is due out later this year.

By weekend’s end Mae loomed large. Over the course of the weekend the quintent made light of the fact that they had participated in only one rehearsal prior to the Orlando shows. While the quip was meant more as jocularity fodder it actually served more as a touchstone than a throwaway. Never once over the course of two nights did the band sound sloppy, unprepared or rushed. On the contrary their sets were polished, air-tight and deeply affecting. As nostalgic as revisiting previous albums continues to be for bands such as Mae arguably the biggest takeaway was just how timeless the Mae canon has become. Unlike many of their peers Elkins and Gehring crafted songs that featured ample piano, strings and ballads galore. Sure they had teeth-gnashing guitar riffs and spiky rhythms throughout but their versatility is what resounds the most 20 years on.

While the city of Orlando probably won’t see the likes of Mae for another few years for one weekend they put the beautiful in the City Beautiful. And for that we are ever grateful.

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