Published Nov 03, 2019Halifax native Rich Aucoin is very well liked in Canada. His first two albums, 2011's We're All Dying to Live and 2014's Ephemeral, both made the Polaris Music Prize long list. The video for "Brian Wilson Is A.L.I.V.E." won the first-ever Prism Prize back in 2013, while his video for "The Middle" from Release made that award's Top 20 in 2019.
And then there is his impressive charity work, having cycled across the country for Childhood Cancer Canada and again for the Canadian Mental Health Association, while also running across in a series of partial marathons for the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation. He's like Terry Fox with a synthesizer; you'd have to put in some serious effort to dislike the guy.
The job of warming up the crowd for Aucoin's first Victoria appearance since 2015 went to Vancouver's Taylor Swindells and Brenon Parry, together known as the Tourist Company. The only lighting onstage for the indie synth-pop duo was provided by a handful of long strips, one facing each performer from the front and two behind them that faced out toward the crowd. Their coloured illuminations fluctuated along with the music they were performing, which was rather blinding to look at whenever they strobed, but were frequently used to foster neat atmospheric effects. The duo have a respectably heavy sound, with Parry's powerful drums over booming bass lines leaving just enough room for Swindells' floating tenor vocals to deliver meaningful lyrics while he sprinkled in textural guitar and synths. No doubt, Tourist Company set the bar reasonably high, but as soon as Rich Aucoin took the stage, he kicked that bar clean through the wall.
With humorous phrases like "keep hands and feet inside the universe at all times during the ride" first appearing on the big screen at the back of the stage, followed by shout-outs to photographers and other guest listers, Aucoin's show essentially opened like five movies at once. There was a taste of Keith Mansfield's "Funky Fanfare" and the THX sound before he actually got the crowd to sing Alfred Newman's famous "20th Century Fox Fanfare," subsequently followed by a brief mashup of the Netflix and HBO title card sounds. All of this cinematic bluster makes perfect sense considering that his 2019 album Release syncs up with Alice In Wonderland in a similar fashion to Dark Side of the Moon and Wizard of Oz, except that it was intentional in Aucoin's case.
You could not fit Aucoin's performance this evening onto a screen, though. Regardless of the format, it would melt. Granted, his setup was simple enough: only a little keyboard on a stand with a battery-powered light bulb on one side of the stage, drummer Tony Dallas (Fake Shark) nestled in darkness on the other, and visuals between them. Yet, altogether, the effect they produced was more spectacular than words can convey (but, hey, since you're reading this, I'll give it a shot).
About ten minutes into the set, Aucoin grabbed the light bulb and wandered across the dance floor, jumping up on the bar briefly at the back before making his way back. This was the first of many forays into the audience, each of which seemed to ramp up intensity throughout his set. Standing in the wooden box center stage, putting a leg up on the monitors, he sang over the crowd, coaxing them to belt out the refrain to "The Change," joining them on the ground level after he got the whole bar jumping. For "The Time," he moved to the middle of the floor, and had the crowd with their hands up doing spirit fingers all around him, going a step further for "Are You Experiencing?" as he unfurled a parachute that nearly covered the entire bar, and we all partied underneath it as giddily as an elementary school class.
Naturally, given how much jumping around he was doing, Aucoin was dripping with sweat halfway through his set. This eventually led him to strip down to a tank top that declared, "Gender is over!" By the time he got to "The Other," the room was as humid as a summer afternoon in Miami, and, boy howdy, was that track madness, somewhere between Passion Pit and LCD Soundsystem on the "I can't believe how cathartic this feels to experience live" scale.
Perhaps it wasn't the most musically impressive set, given that Aucoin spent most of his time singing and hyping, playing the odd synth melody only somewhat more frequently than he shot off confetti hand cannons, but it was undeniably one hell of a show. He provided as much manic energy as Nic Offer from !!!, but he put it out there without any contrived peacocking or disingenuous piss-taking. Aucoin played with his visuals, blending scenes from the aforementioned Alice in Wonderland with X-Files, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Matrix and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as well as a couple of his own videos, all of which helped to lend a spoonful of sugar to his lyrical ruminations on death and anxiety. Plus, it was quite something to witness Tony Dallas going bug nutty on the kit, even if he was often left alone onstage in his dimly lit corner.
Aucoin was again in the middle of the crowd as he closed his set with "The Greatest Secret in the World," but rather than slink off to consume his rider in the green room, he high-fived people all the way to the merch booth while a scene from Back to the Future played him off. He demonstrated consciousness without pretentiousness, positivity without ignorance, and intelligence without arrogance, leaving no wonder as to why Canada loves this guy so much. If he's not careful, he might end up Prime Minister.