"You're not going to get a lot of hope out of this set," declared Ria Mae halfway through her performance at the Carleton Bar and Grill. True, emotive singer-songwriters tend to be heavy on the heartbreak, but it's what Mae does best.
Mae's set consisted of her on acoustic guitar, and Margot Durling providing simple and varying accompaniment (guitar, vocals and cajon), with the stripped-down additions perfectly illuminating Mae's songwriting and sweet growl.
The poignant hopelessness of the songs found a beautiful balance in Mae's comfort with the crowd. She's developed a slightly cocky stage presence that works for her, as it's intertwined with her own self-deprecating humour. You get the feeling she pokes fun at you the same way a sibling does — you're comfortable with them, and you're quite happy to have them there.
The Carleton is well-known as a listening venue, but it still takes a good act to hold attention. As soft-spoken as she is, Mae had confidence and stage presence that are a welcome change to the singer-songwriter genre: usually rife with quiet bodies and few words on stage. Her comfort with both her crowd and her songs does the trick, and goes to show that people will always listen to presence and preparation.
To see Exclaim!'s Halifax Pop Explosion photo gallery, courtesy of Lindsay Duncan, head here.