by Michael Thomas
The Great Hall is a strange place with strange licensing rules, so I was relegated to a balcony for several hours to observe six acts. It was my final night of CMW and it couldn’t have ended on a better note than Rich Aucoin.
The opening set by Glass Gang may as well have been brought to you by the balcony, because for a majority of their set, only a few actual concertgoers were in the pit. “This is our worst gig ever,” the band’s vocalist said, but he was likely only half-joking. The vocals/synths/guitar trio would have gotten a crowd moving, but to their credit they didn’t phone in their performance. They tore into the dancefloor-ready grooves, eventually getting the performers watching to come up front and dance. Their final song had an extended outro as the vocalist left, followed by the guitarist.
ROLEMODEL had a larger crowd to play for and took the tempo down a bit, playing keys-heavy pop-rock. Soaring vocals and synth-textured tempos were the order of the night, and while it was somewhat repetitive, it did pick up toward the end. The last song, “Until,” brought on a guest singer for a much louder and harder-hitting number.
Though every band had a synthesizer or keyboard, Australian band Tora stood out by injecting some soul into their set. With three different vocalists adding some great vocal harmonies (and even some hip-hop?) the band kept things fresh. Opening numbers were clearly meant to keep the audience dancing, and once the band had them hooked, they slowed it down for more soulful numbers, falsetto and all.
Pick a Piper have been inactive for some time, but came back with a passion as the fourth band of the night. Brad Weber’s experience as a drummer for Caribou translates into beautiful, percussion-based landscapes. The trio worked through primarily songs from their masterful self-titled LP and quickly got the crowd’s undivided attention. The unrelenting, powerful percussion was the draw, and a true highlight was the last song, when all three of the group’s members were drumming slightly different rhythms. In a perfect world, they’d be playing for hours.
The Great Hall was finally full for Humans, and it was a crowd ready to receive the duo’s dark electronic music. The duo’s instrumental setup was simple enough–a giant table to hold all their electronics–but they added flair with a cavalcade of lights, including a board and a giant, white inflatable contraption. With very few breaks, they smoothly moved from danceable song to danceable song, not even breaking stride when their light board fell over early on. They kept the party going and set the stage for the man of the night.
And finally, it was time for the king of parachutes and confetti himself, Rich Aucoin, with a slightly revamped show. Those unfamiliar with his show should note it’s all about weird videos and crowd participation—few can get an audience to sing at the top of their lungs the way he can.
Anyway, with the release of last year’s Ephemeral, Aucoin has added some new songs into the mix like “Let It Go,” and he’s also wisely kept the music (or singing) going, to prevent any awkward starts and stops. It all began with “Brian Wilson is A.L.i.V.E.” and “Push” and ended with the most life-affirming song Aucoin has ever written, “It.” The set was as celebratory as any Aucoin show and it will never not be fun to sing “WE WON’T LEAVE IT ALL IN OUR HEAD” until your throat gets sore.
CMW has had its hits and misses, but Aucoin is the biggest hit there is.