Thebarton Theatre. 22 Sept 2012
It’s always with a sense of fondness and pride that I recall seeing Xavier Rudd play his very first show in Adelaide at the Gov many, many moons ago. Since then, I’ve seen him dozens of times, and he still always impresses me, no matter how familiar I am with his music and live performance; his show at Thebbie on Sat Sep 22 was certainly not about to change that record.
I must admit that it had been a little while since I’d seen Xavier live, with the last couple of shows being in support of his last album Koonyum Sun, when he played WOMADelaide joined by his South African band mates of Izintaba, and then subsequently solo as a follow-up to that tour, and I think Xavier was in a pretty good place musically. He’d had a rough patch in his life, but his music was shining brighter than ever. It’s almost as though playing with Izintaba had revitalised him, and this flowed on even when we was playing solo. Fast forward a year or two, and Xavier’s back with Spirit Bird, a brand new long player, with no mention of Izintaba, but we again see Xavier in triumphant form, showcasing everything about his music that we’ve come to know and love. And it was in that guise that he took the stage at Thebbie and proceeded to wow the ever-enthusiastic audience. Sadly, I missed the support act of Germany’s Yeshe, a world music master fusing a range of styles and sporting an awesome kamele ngoni, a West African lute-style instrument similar to a kora. Thankfully however, I did get to catch some of Yeshe’s playing when he joined Xavier later in the set.
An interesting aspect of observing Xavier Rudd over many years is that his shows and tours are all different, with changes and growth between each live experience, and he has the chance to showcase the differences that each new album also brings to the fold. For the Spirit Bird tour, Xavier was still joined on stage by an amazing array of instruments, but rather than being surrounded by them, he moved around on stage, sometimes sitting only with his lap guitar, sometimes with a didgeridoo, and sometimes with his whole instrument set up, adding yet another dynamic to the performance.
For the most part, it was Xavier, his guitar, and his angelic voice that rang throughout the theatre, with classic tunes like Fortune Teller, Let Me Be and Better People justifiably impressing the crowd. There were numbers from across Xavier’s back catalogue, ranging from the really old-school to his more recent stuff, including solo takes on the Koonyum Sun material and obviously a healthy dose of the brand new Spirit Bird tunes too. I don’t recall too much from his darker, more moody album Dark Shades Of Blue, which certainly had more depressive overtones, but perhaps this is a reflection of the positive vibe he exudes at the moment.
Xavier also threw in some interesting instrumental pieces, where he interlaced percussion with didgeridoo playing, bringing the ancient, ethereal sounds of this land together with some amazing beats, ranging from the rootsy blues we expect, to drum’n’bass grooves and even elements of metal. Definitely some impressive stuff, and as always Xavier demonstrated with ease just how awesome an instrument the didgeridoo really is! Another highlight came in the form of a pseudo-cover of Bob Marley’s Buffalo Soldier: the tune and ‘Whoa-yo-yo’ cries were the same, but Xavier’s version took on a distinctly Australian and environmental tone, with the chorus of ‘We have to save Australia, and respect our culture’ ringing through beautifully! The anti-CSG mining and destruction of Kimberly’s and Barrier Reef, among other topics certainly framed the politically and environmentally charged atmosphere present throughout his Spirit Bird album, and therefore this tune was undoubtedly the centre point of my evening!
After hours of good times on stage, the main set came to a close, but of course the audience wasn’t having a bar of that! Xavier was soon back again for a truly stirring encore. While for much of the show there was excessive banter and noise in the audience (perhaps due to the presence of an overwhelming pop-tart constituency… and since I’m an old surfie-hippie type, with long locks, sandals and a surf tee, I can make such criticisms!) as Xavier began to play the title track of his latest album, a hush fell over the crowd, and we were taken to another place. It was a spectacular moment, with the whole theatre fell silent apart from Xavier and his guitar. Truly magic, and a magic way to end a spectacular evening!
Where: Thebarton Theatre