The Maes, Tuning Fork, 5 December 2019: Concert Review

There was one band that really stood out, head and shoulders above other acts at this year’s Auckland Folk Festival in January: The Maes. They are superb songwriters, sublime singers, intricate harmony-vocalists, virtuosic multi-instrumentalists, spellbinding and enchanting performers. Formerly, The Mae Trio, Melbourne-based sisters Elsie and Maggie Rigby just blew us all out of the water. I snaffled up all the merch I could purchase and made their CDs my sing-along soundtracks of Summer/Autum 2019.

I found out about their current NZ tour purely by accident, a day before the first gig of their seven-date Nationwide tour. Whaaaaat? The Maes were playing at the Tuning Fork? How did I not know about this? It really WAS Under the Radar… and not in a good way. This begs the question: What are our delivery and filtration systems for the best music these days? It used to be music press like Britain’s now defunct Word Magazine, or radio play on the bNet stations. How can you find anything on-line with tsunamis of content competing for your ears and eyeballs? There’s now more pressure on festival curators like Auckland Folk Festival’s Finn McLennan Elliot to hand-pick and entice artists down this far.

Clearly, word hadn’t spread as the gig was sadly under-attended (considering their stature). However, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world, and so did the rest of the petite but perfectly formed audience. We were enticed and in-love (despite their feeling jaded from waking up at stupid o’clock to get their flights across the ditch.

The Maes appeared in the same configuration as on their self-titled album (released officially in April this year). That is: Elsie Rigby (violin, mandolin, voice), Maggie Rigby (guitar, banjo, voice) and Brisbane-based Monique Clare (cello, voice). Three glorious voices. Three stupendously gifted musicians delivering kinky arrangements of brilliantly written and realized songs.

The Maes’ set was predominantly songs from this most recent album. Three of the songs were from The Mae Trio’s Take Care, Take Cover (recorded in Nashville by Grammy nominated producer/engineer Erick Jaskowiak). The record won them the Age, Music Victoria Folk/Roots Album of the Year in 2017 as well as rave reviews in Australia and overseas.

It’s heart-breaking that great artists are often only celebrated in their home-territory, as opposed to enjoying global recognition. Through festivals and constant touring, I do hope The Maes will receive the kudos and success they deserve.

Head Over Heels is what Maggie called a “bog-standard love song” (it’s not) adding “I’m in NZ, I can tell you shit” about her love-life. At the Folk Festival, they not only took a vocal-harmony workshop (where we sang with great gusto the anthemic Better than That, they also gave backstories to their writing of various songs. Sunrise, for example was Maggie’s response for the wedding of a friend who fell in love with a bag-piper when back-packing around Scotland. She claimed to know little of love (or sunrises) but said “I wrote a song about uncertainty, that I know a lot about”. All three women, especially the sisters are so comfortable with each other that the joy was palpable… with zero, posturing, ego or pretence.

Their arrangement of Janelle Monae’s Make Me Feel from Dirty Computer was an unexpected treat (especially with immaculate three-part harmonies, cello, mandolin and banjo… I’m sure Monae would never have reimagined that specific instrumentalization!) They posited this song as being the creative spark behind their late4st album’s gentle folk.

For me, the stand-out track, that represents so well their song-writing genius is Elsie’s Driving Ali Through Mining Towns. It documents her long goodbye, driving across the desert to relocate her girlfriend from Melbourne to Darwin. So evocative. So achingly sad and funny. So subtle and yet cutting in it’s depiction of small-town Australian homophobia “I’ll drive you through the desert to the dusty mining towns / we’ll find that outback highway and sand the edges down / until the storm cloud breaks and we hit the ocean / and I will leave you there … We came here out of season / we came here when it’s quieter / I hold your hand in public and we feel like outsiders / and we hear ghosts of warnings / that you get all types, out on these roads”

Opening the night were Hamilton-based power-folksters Looking for Alaska (performing as an acoustic duo: songwriting partners and founders Amy Maynard and Aaron Gott). They announced that it felt weird playing as “just us two” because they were full-time musicians, used to playing “dirty old covers in bars”. Except for the wonderful interpretation Sufjan Stevens John Wayne Gacy Jr, all songs were from a forthcoming album due for release in 2020. A real stand out track was Hine Atarau about the raruraru of ancestral healing. Gorgeous to hear Amy’s voice really soar singing in Te Reo. It was pure genius to pair them up with The Maes for this tour.

Do yourself a favour and get along to a show if they’re in your town. Buy their music (and hand-drawn teeshirts) and bathe in The Maes flawless songwriting, refreshingly authentic Aussie accents, playfull and pithy tween song banter and jaw-dropping musicality.

~Caitlin Smith

Click any image in the galleries below to see full size images from both The Maes and Looking for Alaska. All Photos by Rachel Webb.

The Maes

Looking for Alaska


NZ Tour Dates
6 December – Incubator, Tauranga (tickets at
7 December – The Globe Theatre, Palmerston North (tickets at
8 December – Meow, Wellington (tickets at
11 December – Blue Smoke, Christchurch* (tickets at
13 December – 50 Dundas, Dunedin* (tickets at
14 December – Sherwood, Queenstown* (tickets at
* with Holly Arrowsmith


Title & Album

Writer of Love Songs (yet to be released)
Head over Heels, The Maes
Parallel Park Take Care, Take Cover
Sunrise, The Maes
Make me Feel, (cover) (Janelle Monae – from Dirty Computer)
Tenderness and Alcohol, The Maes
February Bride, The Maes
Driving Ali Through Mining Towns, The Maes
Well Enough Alone Take Care, Take Cover
Waterlily Take Care, Take Cover
Treat you Better, The Maes

When I Found You The Maes

Support: Looking For Alaska


Home (yet to be released)
John Wayne Gacy Jr (cover) Sufjan Stevens (from Come on feel the Illanoise)
All the Broken People (yet to be released)
Hine Atarau (yet to be released)
Let You Go (yet to be released)
Lily (yet to be released)