It was four years ago, almost to the day, that I first saw Rich Aucoin perform live. He was opening for Arkells at the Commodore (on 11/11/11, appropriately enough) and I knew right then, I never wanted to not see him play. Since then I have made sure to see catch his shows every time he's back, and have never been disappointed. So of course I wasn't going to miss when his latest tour, dubbed the Karaoke Carnival Tour, hit the Fox Cabaret this weekend.
Starting off the night, though, was The Elwins from Keswick, Ontario. The alt-pop foursome came out fast with "Off The Wall" from their new album Play For Keeps, and barely slowed down. Focusing mostly on the new album, they played high energy, upbeat songs like "It Ain't Over Til It's Over", which had lead singer Matthew Sweeney hop into the crowd and get people singing along, and "Bringing Out The Shoulders" where bassist Frankie Figliomeni took over lead vocals. Other highlights included the bouncy "Away Too Long" and the quirky "Is There Something", as well as mustachioed keys/guitar player Feurd Moore at the front of the stage, tambourine in hand, getting the crowd clapping along to "Forgetful Assistance", before spotting a familiar face in the crowd and pulling Spencer Schoening of Said the Whale on stage. They drew things to a close with their single "So Down Low", for a really fun and tight set. I have seen them play a few times now, and I enjoy them more and more each time.
After a quick turnaround and setup, Rich Aucoin took the stage for what can only be described as a multimedia experience. Before anything else, he usually starts the crowd with a crowd vocal warmup, this time it was singing Happy Birthday to someone in the crowd. That was followed by the usual 20th Century Fox fanfare and THX introduction, before a motivational speech, and finally the "opening credits" featuring people from the crowd given amusing attributes (like this nice shoutout).
Most of that was scored by an instrumental of "Meaning in Life" the first song off the latest album Ephemeral, before launching right into the singalong with "Brian Wilson is A.L.I.V.E.", words flashing on the projection screen behind him, with videos or movie clips synched up to the songs.
With the insane drumming of Tony Dallas as the backbone, Rich played samples and loops and keys from his station, though more often than not he was along the front of the stage, or even in the crowd. During "Four More Years" Rich create a large hole in the middle of the dance floor, as he ran around the rim singing to people before everyone came in to dance.
Not only can few people control a crowd like Aucoin, but there's always something special about those crowds at his shows. All pretentiousness is thrown out the window as people are more than happy to dance, jump, sing, yell, throw their arms around total strangers, and do all of the above under a giant parachute.
Which, of course made its appearance during "Are You Experiencing?", the rainbow parachute extending from the stage to the bar, encompassing the entire dance floor, Aucoin leading the crowd underneath, everyone singing along with what almost feels like a mantra for Rich Aucoin, and his live shows: "When you give it all up, you get it back"
And as fun as the live show experience is, it would be nothing without his anthemic, electro-pop songs. You don't just sing along with songs like "Want To Believe" or "Let It Go" (not that "Let It Go") because the words are there, you do it because they are catchy songs with poignant lyrics that remind us we are, as the album says, ephemeral. Which was proven with the set-closing "It" as the crowd chanted "We won't leave it all in our heads" well after the song was done.
The set ended spot on the curfew, with Rich putting his actual phone number up on the screen, with a promise of free music if you text him, and that's usually where the show would end... but after some crowd clamouring, Aucoin came back out, admitting he isn't much of an encore guy. Instead, he lived up to the "karaoke" part of the tour by piping in the karaoke version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and leading the whole room to a giant singalong, a pretty great way to end the show.
I've said it before, but you don't just watch Rich Aucoin play live. You experience it. There are a few bands that I have seen that give you that warm feeling and giant grin plastered over your face after the show -- or even days later just thinking about it -- and Rich Aucoin is up there as one of the best at it.
Meaning in Life, Brian Wilson is A.L.I.V.E., P:U:S:H, Four More Years, Undead, Let It Go, Want to Believe, Are You Experiencing?, It.
(encore) Bohemian Rhapsody Karaoke.