Who: Rich Aucoin
Where: Velvet Underground, 508 Queen St. W., Toronto
When: Thurs., Mar. 17
Vibe: Rock-infused revival meeting
Highlight: Many — and all involved crowd participation — but there was something kind of wonderful about a room full of smiling young people singing “We are not dead yet, we are undead” almost two years to the day after the plague lockdown hit.
Next: Fri., Mar. 25, Ursa, Montreal; Fri., Apr. 8, Broken City, Calgary
I’m two shows deep on a boisterous The Return of St. Patrick’s Day Night in Toronto and two out of two acts have featured somewhat random dudes on stage suddenly dropping to their briefs.
When East Coast synth rocker Rich Aucoin takes the stage upstairs at the Velvet Underground — in what is still the prologue part of his show sporting a colourful bathing suit, a NEXT mask and a cowboy hat — he seems regal by comparison.
A steady stream of enigmatic phrases has been featured on back-wall video projections that will be an important part of Aucoin’s show. When he fires up a “sponsor video” before launching the show — “gotta pay for tours somehow” — it just seems clever not intrusive, another piece of the phantasmagorical offerings from Aucoin to his eager followers.
And eager they are as the crowd happily takes direction from Aucoin throughout the night, while the rocker works the audience like a super-cool choirmaster leading his singers. After years of lockdown, Aucoin’s show is life-affirming as his fans respond to his upbeat, energizing, hopeful and, ultimately, triumphant approach.
Photo by Corbin Smith
It’s singalong-central and when Aucoin leads the audience through his vintage track Undead, the chorus projected on the screen, it’s moving and inspiring to hear young voices coming together to sing, almost defiantly, “We are not dead yet, we are undead.” It sounds almost like a prayer as the ever-encouraging Aucoin wills us forward to resilience and better times.
Apparently, COVID concerns have caused Aucoin to treat unfurling his trademark parachute on the crowd as a “game time” decision.
To the delight of his fans, Aucoin “pulls the ripcord” on the chute, releasing a sheet as colourful as his trunks to the upraised hands and enthusiastic cheers of the crowd that assembles eagerly under the descending “silk” — like excited kids gathering under the sheets with a flashlight at a sleepover.
While the audience is a key part of his show, Aucoin has assembled a bit of an all-star band for his Toronto gig, including talented singers, James Baley and Carleigh Aikins. And bass player Michael Small is featured centre stage in line with the bass’s prominence in the sound, more of a lead instrument than merely supplying rhythm. Dylan Ryan is on drums.
Photo by Chris Murphy
Throughout the night, Aucoin’s video wall provides an entertainment bridge between songs as well as a cheat sheet for singalong lyrics.
A running joke involving British actor Michael Caine, who’s birthday was few days earlier on March 14, is a reliable source of yucks throughout the night — I wont spoil one of the punchlines here, but it’s a good one.
A triumphant Toronto-return for an artist who will hopefully command a stage with better sightlines for the video wall next time in town.