By DAN MACINTOSH
Mae opened its rainy night show at the El Rey with “Light,” an instrumental where the band encouraged audience members to apply their smartphones in creating a virtual reality moment.
Although this participatory element was a bit on the techie side, Mae’s music is far more conventional than such a stunt might suggest. However, whereas the group’s keyboard-augmented sound is relatively “conventional,” instrumentally speaking, the act’s strong songs raise it far above typical modern rock.
Led by Dave Elkins, who plays guitar and sometimes adds effects to his vocals, Mae played a strong set, which only drew sparsely from its recent Multisensory Aesthetic Experience album. The set reached its apex with a few lovely pop-rock songs, like the poetic “Bloom,” and reached all the way back to the beginning for “Embers and Envelopes,” which has evolved into an audience sing-along.
The group presented music as therapy early on with “Sing,” where Elkins implored, “So keep on hoping ‘til you know we’ll find that peace of mind.”
These words were presented though creating beautiful music is a giant step in jumpstarting hope. Tonight’s audience willingly sang along, like true believers, which made it difficult to argue with Mae’s music therapy premise.
Matt Thiessen, on break from Reliant K, preceded Mae with an equally strong set. Only Thiessen’s approach was more stripped down than Mae’s. He performed with only the aid of an acoustic guitar. It’s easy to miss what a talented guitarist Thiessen is when he’s fronting his hyperactive rock band.
However, his lovely chord progressions and fingerpicking sometimes brought Nick Drake’s pioneering acoustic work to mind. Songs like “Oedipus” and “Man of Stone,” off his Wind Up Bird album with his side act Earthquakes, revealed a more serious, less witty side of Thiessen’s musical personality.
Active Set opened the evening with a likable sampling of sophisticated pop tunes, which made them fit right into the bill. With all the great music filling the historic El Rey Theatre, it was oh so easy to forget about the rain outside.