On the second day of 2015, The Electric Factory brought to me a band that goes by M.A.E. The acronym, which stands for Multisensory Aesthetic Experience, refers to the holistic way in which they have approached music and especially live performance over the years. The Everglow, their most commercially successful album, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and opens and closes with a narrator instructing the listener how to interact with the album booklet while listening for the best possible M.A.E. For this anniversary tour, the five piece lineup of vocalist/guitarist Dave Elkins, guitarist Zach Gehring, drummer Jacob Marshall, bassist Mark Padgett, and keyboardist Rob Sweitzer really brought it, issuing glowing wristbands to the audience and setting up their gear in the midst of a forest of poles on stage, between which strings of Christmas lights dangled, synchronized to the music. Philly was the first stop on the tour, so we had the privilege of being first to have this particular experience.
Before Mae went on, however, there were two local openers, Square Peg Round Hole and Kiska. The former are an instrumental trio of percussionists: Evan Chapman, Sean Gill, and Carlos Pacheco-Perez. The three utilize a variety of instrumentation, which on this occasion included what looked like an orchestral xylophone, a Rhodes organ, and various drums both digital and otherwise. Their ambient sounds were perfectly suited background music as the crowd slowly filtered into the venue, with many people barely seeming to take notice until they played their cover of Linkin Park’s “Numb”, whose instantly recognizable piano lead flashed the nostalgic crowd back even before the release of The Everglow. Atypically for a show at the all-ages Electric Factory, the upstairs bar section was full long before the downstairs, with every seat taken even before Square Peg Round Hole went on. $7 beers and even pricier drinks ensured no one was getting too rowdy, though the preponderance of couples probably would have kept things calm anyway. Lead support act Kiska, made up mostly of members of defunct Philly/Jersey stalwarts Desoto Jones, kicked things into a much higher gear. Keeping alt-rock alive with almost arena-oriented vocals almost submerged in punk-influenced instrumentation, they released their self-titled debut just before the new year, and indicated that the Mae show was only their third in this incarnation. Frontman Owen Staszewski had his hands full trying to get an indie reunion tour crowd into a rock’n'roll set, but he and his band’s energy never lagged, despite some rather odd sound mixing and their unknown status. Clearly Mae’s Dave Elkins takes his new role in distribution and marketing for emerging bands with his Schematic project/label seriously, offering opportunities on this scale to local acts throughout the tour rather than cash in with well-known openers to help pack the house.
By the time Mae came on it was almost ten o’clock, and the house was certainly packed. Eschewing the typical anniversary tour format of playing the record first and saving the rest of the catalog for the encore, they kicked things off with “I Just Needed You To Know” from Evening, their farewell EP, sucked the crowd in with breakout hit “Embers and Envelopes” from their debut Destination: Beautiful, and played “Reflections”, the closer from 2007′s Singularity, before the opening voiceover indicated that we were now experiencing “The Everglow by Mae”. From start to finish, the audience was enraptured, singing along passionately as the band masterfully led, and sometimes merely accompanied, them in song after song. The Christmas lights were the perfect addition, providing the illusion of an intimate backyard party despite the cavernous warehouse space. Between songs, Elkins alluded to a pre-show meet-and-greet where a couple mentioned walking down the aisle to a Mae song, emphasizing how the band and the audience have both grown up with this record, whether from twenties to thirties or teens to twenties. The communal nature of art and its consumption was a constant theme as everyone together participated in this multisensory aesthetic experience. The band members seemed rejuvenated by the performance, beaming throughout and dropping hints that this might be a more long-term reunion. After playing through The Everglow in its entirety, they came back for an encore, consisting of “Just Let Go” from its followup, Singularity, somewhat incongruously “Summertime”, another standout from Destination: Beautiful, and closed with “A Melody, the Memory” from the Morning EP. The performance was tantalizing, reminding audiences what they missed and hinting at what might be to come.
By Dave Fox | Philadelphia Ambassador | @philosofoxthedj | Beat-Play and Music Without Labels, LLC