Mae Simpson fans were treated to an intimate and thoroughly enjoyable listening party Friday at El Diablo Guitars. As an appetizer for the band’s soon to be released EP Did You Make It Back? It felt more like hanging with friends at their house than a formal performance. This was completely by design and a great choice.
Mae Simpson Music is one of the bands in local environs on the verge of breaking. In the two years they’ve been together, they’ve made it to First Avenue’s Mainroom as a 2020 Best New Band. Shows at places like The Turf Club and Dakota have been packed. Expect their release party March at The Cedar to sell out, as well.
But the Listening Party headed in a completely different direction. Tiny, unique space. Hor d’ouvres and beer. The band sitting on folding chairs, unplugged with friends and family parked around the room on couches or leaning on record racks. The evening began with some socializing before a sneak peek at the new album.
Following the EP listen, the band picked up their guitars and went back to their roots. Woodshedding some old tunes and just plain having fun. Throughout, fans were able to ask questions of band members. Band members shared stories of how they came together and what the ride has been like. Yes, you still can find musicians on Craigslist. Yes, you can steal musicians you admire from other bands. Yes, you can become a family in a relatively short period of time.
At the center of the storm is Mae herself, the South Carolina transplant whose Americana, powerful voice is matched only by her own self confidence. If you’ve experienced Mae Simpson Music on a big stage and fully plugged, you already know she commands it. She described her commitment to find success as an artist at the age of 28. Mae had always told herself that if she was going to do it, it had to happen before she reached 30. So she told herself time’s awastin’. My own assessment watching the band develop in the past year is that this isn’t just an effort to find some success. It’s a dedicated assault to kick down the door. Each step a specific goal. Each new stage a green light to think even bigger.
There is no question that the band is musical and has a special ability to write music that makes people jump; makes people sing along. Yet, I found it interesting that as Mae described her vision and what she was trying to accomplish, she wasn’t sure how to describe it. She mentioned that the music was never about her. It was about something bigger. Something that she felt compelled to share. She wasn’t sure what the end result of that sharing would be or its ultimate purpose. It was a compulsion that she trusted.
When Mae Simpson works you see that “serving the song” clearly. When she hits the stage, it’s in jeans. Usually ripped. A baseball cap, turned backward keeps the long red hair from her face. She growls and howls. You don’t see look at me ego. You see somebody who just wants to rock. Nobody in the place is allowed to have more fun than she does. That’s infectious.
Mae Simpson Music’s listening party was an idea that I hope a pile of young bands replicate. The music was great and offered in a completely different format. They kept us fed and hydrated. For those who enjoy record shopping there were racks to peruse. For the guitar nerds there were some killer custom guitars and high end amps to ogle.
Best of all, it was an opportunity to share. One of the things you learn about high energy rock and roll bands is that what we see on stage is not always who we find in real life. That makes sense for a couple reasons. You can’t carry that kind of pace around with you. You have to store it up so that you can explode when you hit the stage. And you need to protect yourself. When you begin to find success many people want a piece. Somehow they think they know you simply by watching you work. That’s a bit creepy and not entirely without danger. So the idea of pulling back the veil in a safe environment and connecting directly with fans is a rare and special treat.
Those hardcore fans who attended will surely function like a street army, recruiting friends to The Cedar release show. I, for one, will bring some friends. It’s going to be a testament to how great the local music scene as another serious band bubbles to the surface.