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Mae frontman gets personal

Fans were surprisingly sparse at The Orpheum on Friday, when Dave Elkins, the lead singer of Mae, took the stage for a solo acoustic set. Though more than a hundred people visited the venue that night, Elkins did not draw more than 25 patrons. Opening for Elkins were Kevin Devine, who played an acoustic set, a band called The Jealous Girlfriends and Theresa Jeane, who also gave a solo performance.

The show had an intimate feel, and not just because it was at a small venue. Divine and Elkins, the two biggest names, conversed leisurely with the crowd between songs, and people occasionally shouted out song requests. Although Elkins had significantly fewer than Devine, it was apparent that both had a real connection with their fans.

At 7:30 p.m., the doors opened and Jeane began singing and playing piano for those filing in. Jeane had a very strong voice and great skill when playing, though her songs didn’t provide a match to her voice and melody. She had a voice similar to Jewel’s and sang with fantastic tone and fervor. Her playing, however, did not match well with her angst-ridden lyrics. The melodies ranged from bouncy and light, sounding vaguely like Randy Newman, to intense and loud, sounding like dramatic silent film music. There was little deviation from the two extremes, which made her set rather repetitive.

By the time The Jealous Girlfriends took the stage, the room had filled up more. The band had two guitar players, a drummer and a keyboardist playing piano and synthesizer. These Brooklyn, N.Y. natives employed a wide range of sounds. Vintage classic rock riffs, new school indie beats and interesting keyboard effects flowed nicely to give them a unique sound.

Devine, a 28-year-old songwriter from Brooklyn, N.Y. played his set a few minutes later and drew an impressive crowd. Devine’s strongest musical attribute was his lyrics. He showed great artistic talent in writing, particularly in a song he said was going to be on an upcoming album. It was a glaring look at the problems of the world today, touching on such subjects as natural disasters, the war in Iraq and the struggle of poor nations. Devine played acoustically, but on his album he has a full band backing him.

Elkins’ performance was last and by that time, the crowd had thinned, but that raised the level of intimacy and made the show better. Because he was playing to a smaller crowd, he seemed more relaxed and was able to talk freely about his life, music and whether we had seen any good movies lately. He played many old Mae songs, mainly from the albums Destination: Beautiful and The Everglow. Elkins asked those in the crowd who knew the songs to help him sing, which they happily did. Among those he played were “Ready and Waiting to Fall,” “Suspension,” “Embers and Envelopes,” “Tisbury Lane” and “Summertime.”

Elkins also explained the nature of his solo performance, which he clarified as a “practice” and not a “project.” According to Elkins, the reason he wanted to do these performances was essentially personal re-evaluation. Elkins expressed a need to get back in touch with his music and to also challenge himself as an entertainer. Elkins said his personal influences include Nirvana, The Beatles, Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson. He said that life and the nature of melody and progression are his main inspirations, and that he does not really consider himself an entertainer although he has been front man of Mae for five years. He said he enjoys writing music and playing drums more than singing lead.

After Friday, Elkins said that he was going back to “heavy production mode” with the band and has something completely new (and visual) lined up for Mae’s next tour. Elkins said that he had set up a camera in his van during the length of this tour, so one can probably expect a documentary in the future. Whatever Mae has in store, it will be something not to be missed.