If you haven’t seen a Rich Aucoin concert, you might not quite understand what you’re getting yourself into. You might have heard something about an immersive experience, or a made-up term like “radical crowd engagement”, but it’s difficult to describe the show to someone new. The truth is, no one does it quite like him, and it’s unclear whether anyone really can.
I made my way to Fortune Sound Club Tuesday evening, making sure to arrive early enough to catch two opening acts that I had not yet seen live. First to take the stage was Chersea, a Port Coquitlam based artist with only a single backing member (setting a theme for the rest of the night). She established her combination of raw talent and approachability immediately, flirting with the crowd with a humble charm that was nothing short of adorable. Her songs started out slow and melodic, building toward powerful moments when several vocal loops would combine to produce chilling results. A talented dancer wielding an LED powered hula on one side of the stage aided the performance. About halfway through the set, I thought I had finally come up with a criticism – violin synth tones sounding great, some classical musicianship to accompany the strictly electronic setup would have been refreshing. Chersea pulled out (however briefly) a trumpet to add that extra layer of depth and put my unwarranted concerns to rest. At one point she referred to herself as a “loop artist”, advising musicians in the crowd to give the practice a fair chance, using it to progress their talents and art. It was welcome advice. This came just moments after a song about flaws in our education system (jokingly dedicated to Christy Clark) signaled Chersea’s attention to nagging current affairs. Her style of dress and dance reminded me more than a little bit of Robyn, which is never a bad thing. Like Robyn, she stretched her vocal chords to the limit, while never exceeding it. All in all, it was a great performance; words of adoration could be heard spoken by many among the crowd. Then, without a moment’s hesitation, she jumped down into the pit, ready to party with the audience and enjoy the rest of the show.
Next was Lowell, another songwriter with just one backing member, this time from the slightly larger town of Toronto. Admittedly, Lowell’s opening track might not have been the best choice to follow Chersea’s energetic performance. The song was a moody ballad that (with its merits) lacked enough power to instill confidence right off the cuff. Couple this with some technical difficulties, and I found myself wondering whether or not her performance would be able to recover and find its legs. Another small worry, another quick resolution. Lowell’s second song brought serious intensity, aided by backing guitar with the perfect amount of distortion. She forced the crowd out of their own heads and into their dancing shoes. From there, the music didn’t let up, and neither did the crowd. We got involved in a back-and-forth conversation with Lowell, which turned humorous almost instantaneously. One fan used the words “Lowell” and “LOL” together in a sentence, to which Lowell graciously replied that she had just found her next album title. Another solid performance, with one lyric in particular from the song The Bells that stuck with me – “Where’d the beat go?!” It seems that Lowell is well-versed in irony, because this has to be a rhetorical question – the beat’s right here, it’s been here the whole time, you never even lost it. Keep up the good work.
Which brings us to Rich Aucoin, performing without the company of his talented band from Halifax, but no worse for wear. You could never say the man isn’t a hard worker; you can see it in the puddles of sweat that form on every corner of the stage. Neither could you say he doesn’t care about his audience, which is clear throughout his set from beginning to end. He began with a modest “thank you” for our birthday wishes before cutting to his signature opening montage – mixing stock footage and audio clips with white text on a black background, often referencing the city and venue of the night’s performance. The focal point of these messages is always empowering to the audience, reinforcing the idea that you are here for a reason, that you are in control of your own experience, and that together, we will make that experience incredible. This is exactly what ends up happening. Each and every party anthem is meticulously designed, containing some unique way to get the crowd involved. Whether it’s Rich going over the chorus before the song starts, so that everyone knows when to sing along, or creating a dance-circle perimeter in the center of the pit that collapses in on itself at a moment of climax. Everyone is shown the steps of the carefully choreographed routine, so that everyone is able and welcome to play a part in it. One first-timer put it this way: “I can’t remember the last time I left a show feeling so inspired and motivated.” He continued: “Other bands leave you feeling as if you’ve just been played to, but with Rich it’s as if you’re being invited to come and play”. Certainly the classic mosh pit/dance party under the madly-heaving rainbow-colored parachute can’t be left out – it takes us all back to our kindergarten days when play was all we knew, and that’s awesome. Too often we forget what we’re capable of feeling and achieving when our imaginations run wild, and we have a few creative-minded people around to bounce ideas off of. Who knows how long it’s been since that parachute got washed, and frankly, who cares. Getting a bit sweatier and dirtier than normal is all part of the fun.
Rich has proved himself to be a genuine, intelligent, caring, crazy, talented and ridiculously fun individual, and I love him for it. It’s in the way he not only takes the time to speak with fans before, during and after his shows – but actually gets to know them. It’s in the way his smile only falters when he’s talking so fast, as not to waste a precious moment of anyone’s time. And it’s in the way he rocks out so hard you wonder how he can possibly keep up with himself, night after night. His technique of “radical crowd engagement” is among the most successful I have ever witnessed (with a special shout-out going to Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros for being on a similar, yet very different, sort of level). With the love for what he does so plain for all to see, it’s difficult to imagine him going anywhere but up.
Thank you, Rich.
WORDS: The Classy Mess
ARTICLE PHOTOS: Kathleen Hinkel
GALLERY PHOTOS: Christine McAvoy