In a tight, 40-minute performance, Mae lit up the Pageant and its near-sold out crowd with bright, melodic rock and perfect pop hooks. While Motion City Soundtrack was headlining, Mae drew an enthusiastic reaction and received a great lighting treatment that let me put the Nikon D3 to a proper test.
By the time five-piece band took the stage, the crowd had swelled to just shy out of a 2,000-head sellout. With strong opening performances by Metro Station and Anberlin, Mae continued the trend with a solid set that had the house moving from the opening bars.
Fronted by Dave Elkins on vox and guitar, the Norfolk, VA band ripped into a performance that drew heavily from their major label debut, Singularity (2006).
If one didn't know better, Mae might well have been mistaken for the main attraction if it weren't for their short set, due to their big performance and the simple but compelling show of lights that blew up behind the band. In a stark departure from the first two openers, Mae was showered with an abundance of headliner-quality light, which made this set a blast to shoot.
Heading back down to the pit after two acts of dim lighting, I was interested to see how the Pageant would treat Mae, who seemed to have a strong following in the crowd. While the new Nikon D3 had handled the first two acts without too much complaint, I was ready to test the camera with more conventional lighting.
One problem that arose early on in the shoot was the microphone setup for Dave Elkins, which featured two mics. This double-barrel approach made getting clean shots from either side just a little more tricky. I quickly found that the best shots came from when the singer was using the mic closest to the shooting position. Aside from paying attention to which mic Elkins was using, shooting at a more oblique angle downstage helped get a little separation from his rig.
While Elkins was more tethered to the mic for his focal duties, guitarist Zach Gerhring frequently came to the stage during the first three songs, which made for some great photo opportunities. By contrast, Josiah Schlater on bass was easily the most subdued member of the band on stage and remained off stage-right during the band's first few songs.
Jacob Marshall on drums put in a heavy performance, though he felt somewhat disconnected from the rest of his group in his position at the back of the stage and walled in on either side by Motion City Soundtrack's gear.
Keyboardist Robert Smith was left to more delicately do his part, laying down accompaniments and twisting knobs to tweak out a little of the band's sparkle. As with most keyboardists, whose instruments are set up parallel to the front of the stage, I found shooting from further downstage produced the best shots.
As usual, it was first three, no flash for this gig.
The lighting for Mae came from Pageant's stock setup, but the equipment was put to spectacular use for a very bright show characterized by strongly atmospheric light from the rear of the stage.
For the first two songs, the lighting came primarily from an array of multi-colored backlighting that took the form of three main schemes of orange-red, magenta-purple, and turquoise. This deep lighting was accented with white light from the front of the stage that kept detail in the faces of the performers, which was a welcome touch.
Into the third and final song I shot, white light dominated the stage from both front and behind, with occasional additions of subtle tints that warmed up the tones.
Enhanced by the heavy use of a water hazer, the lighting had a voluminous quality that contrasted starkly with the opening band's thin effects. The abundant vapor made photographing Jacob Marshall on drums a little more tricky, as the atmospheric effect was double-edged, reducing contrast for the most distant musician. Closer performers didn't suffer the same hit to contrast, since there was much less haze in between them and the lens.
For Mae's performance, I had the opportunity to use each of the three zooms I brought, which covered a range from 14mm to 200mm:
Out of the above lenses, the 24-70mm was used the most by far, which came as no surprise. However, I was pleased by the variety of images that the ultra-wide and telephoto lenses brought to the set as well. The telephoto in particular was essential for photographing Elkins from down stage and for grabbing a shot of Marshal on drums at the back of the stage.
The 14-24mm f/2.8, Nikon's newest in a line of great ultra wide-angle lenses, was only used for a few shots, but the extraordinary perspective was enough for me to come back to the optic for Motion City Soundtrack's set that followed.
I think the 14-24mm will be particularly useful for musicians that play at the front of the stage, where the close subject distance will allow for the rendering of some very interesting dynamics. While I very rarely used the Tokina 12-24mm f/4 for concert photography, mostly due to the slow speed of the lens, I think the new Nikon will make a space for itself in my bag after a few more shoots.
Given the abundant light for this shoot, I shot mostly between ISO 1600 and 2000 for this three-song set, where the D3 renders very nice files that are exceptionally clean. ISO 1600 or possibly even lower would have been possible, but the boost in speed allowed me to shoot between f/2.8 and f/4 at 1/250 for much of the set.
Overall, this shoot was a breeze, in no small part thanks to the great lighting. While I always expect headliners to receive the best stage treatment, the Pageant setup Mae with a compelling display that showcased the capabilities of the house system.