A Fantastic Blowing
This shameless title brought to you by Xavier Rudd and his didgeridoos
There’s a note scribbled down in my notebook from the Xavier Rudd show last week that just says, “This is the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.” And it was. One night is all it took for me to fall in love with this photogenic phantasm straight from the breast of Mother Earth. That is how it seems he came into the world—untouched by humans, grown like a tree or fed like a river until he came to full size and leapt onto stage to sing a love song to his home.
I didn’t expect to have this reaction. I listening to his new album Spirit Bird before the show, answered the questions about the nature sounds coming from my computer, and generally thought what he did was alright. But stepping in the door that evening and feeling the bass rumbles of Rudd sending grave-deep notes against the back wall of the Ogden brought another reaction entirely. In person, the quasi-hokey recorded sound was natural, almost animal to the ear, and to the eye his arms flying around the planes of his carefully crafted drum set (complete with conspicuously-placed wind chimes), mesmerizing.
Rudd’s act is split into two distinct sections: distorted lap steel grooves a la John Butler, and the head-wobbling didgeridoo jams like this that shook the crowd again and again that night. But the real magic of Rudd’s performances doesn’t come from either part; it comes from the fact that he does this all himself. Playing up to four instruments at a time, Rudd combines guitars, shakers, the aforementioned loggish Australian instruments and a variety of triggers and effects played with his perpetually bare feet to create more sound than you thought possible form a single man. You can forget about sound, the coordination of that alone is virtuosic.
While his stunning deftness at playing so many parts simultaneously, Rudd’s skills on the didgeridoo might be even more impressive. The concept of this instrument is simple, but also inherently limiting—impossibly so if you don’t know how to play. But in the course of the night, the array of chirps, boops, warbles and buzzes (with the aid of a few live octave and ring effects, if I’m not mistaken) showed him to not be among this crowd. With all the parts put together, the rhythm and texture Rudd creates in these jams can only be described rightly as live, acoustic electronica.
Yet for all these awesome moments, it nags at me all night that for every bit of honest admiration that I can muster for this man, there is one stereotype being simultaneously fulfilled. His Sea Shepherd shirt with a flag for the same ship flying above the stage. Taking a break to drink some tea. The tye-dye cloths on-stage. Even the wind chimes I couldn’t help but be annoyed by on his drum kit. Rudd is of the earth to a fault. He’s trim and tanned, surfs seriously, and PETA even named him the world’s sexiest vegetarian in 2009. It’s an image not overly common among venue-packing artists, but for all his smiles and thanks it somehow feels immediately distancing for the crowd.
I moved to the back half of the venue and watched the weed smoke puff up like vaporized jellyfish, and found that there were definitely two distinct crowds at the show. The first, the die-hard fans. The dreadlock’d girl next to me at first who swayed and waved her arms in floating patterns, offering wolf calls in yips and howls of appreciation after every song. The second, this crowd in the back that maybe just had nothing better to do tonight. They talk amongst themselves while Rudd talks about how many good “conscious” people there are in America, and dedicates a song to the traditional owners of the land that the theatre is sitting upon. While they appreciate the songs, they’re clearly not interested in the spirituality of the evening like atheists at mass.
As bad as it feels to admit it, I feel more in-tune with these doubters than with Rudd. Try as I might that night, I just couldn’t stay swept up in the music. After a while the songs all sound the same, and I have an awful lot of trouble discerning between this beat and that, this monochromatic didgeridoo dirge and that same-key-again lap steel song. It didn’t help that I think he actually played some songs more than once, or at least reprised parts of them. The undoubted highlights of the night were when Rudd went off-script and broke through the boredom. One blissful but brief dalliance got Rudd off his seat and into a fantastic noise-rock freak-out on the edge of the stage. The more astute members of the crowd could pick apart his electronic setup as he wandered back and forth off of his drum platform, holding his guitar out at arm’s length and working the blood back into his tattooed feet. The less astute members likely just loved it anyway.
Placing his hands palm to palm in a triangle Rudd dips his arms toward the audience and launches into more songs. His spiritual approach to his music seems even stranger standing in the back with the uninterested crowd swilling beer. Walking toward the door, a woman is laying on a stretcher wearing an IV and watched with half-smiles by Police. Paramedics buzz around like they always do, and the Ambulance waits outside like it always does. Inside the Ogden there is a brief space, half way down the length of the theatre where the outside world stops. While the front of the theatre is the pure glistening water, in the back are a living, breathing buffer where the pain of the world transitions into the beatific groans of whales and peace with the universe. And sadly, for these Thomases on the road to peace, the magic of the evening stops as soon as you step out of the theatre.
To give it a judgment, a Xavier Rudd show is something you need to attend at least once in you life. Go with friends; go with peace on your mind and people who you won’t be embarrassed to dance in front of. If you go in search of a feeling of collectiveness and an impressive display of music coming from one man, you will have a fantastic night and a whole lot of fun. But if you want to thrash, throw down, or just find hippies distasteful in general, you’ll likely find that a Xavier Rudd’s show is more than you can bear.