Words by: Justin Gillett | Images by: Michael J. Mullady
Xavier Rudd :: 08.18.09 :: Mystic Theatre :: Petaluma, CA
Australian born multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd has made all the right moves in the past eight years to create a reputation for himself as a highly respected touring act and one-man-band who can play everything from didgeridoo to lap steel guitar. Releasing five studio albums and traveling the globe seemingly non-stop, Rudd has brought his signature style of music, an eclectic blend of Aboriginal influenced folk-pop with hints of reggae, to reputable concert halls around the world. Onstage, the 30-year-old Rudd is known to demonstrate a level of musical prowess that's truly remarkable. With a wide array of instruments typically surrounding the musician, Rudd often plays something completely different with each of his limbs and still somehow manages to sing.
Bucking his trend of performing solo, Rudd has shacked up with an impressive rhythm team that has acted as a backing band for his most recent North American summer tour. Comprised of Toto Moloantoa and Andile Nqubezelo, the respected bassist and drummer of the late South African reggae legend Lucky Dube's musical outfit, the two bring a new and different sound to Rudd's personal tunes. Dube's untimely death, at the hands of car thieves in Johannesburg in 2007, left the talented rhythm section with no solid musical outlet until Rudd recently asked them to tour with him. The combined force of Rudd and his two new musical comrades is something completely fresh and original for a Xavier Rudd show. The trio's layover at the Mystic Theatre saw the band experimenting in new musical territory, while still holding true to the musical roots that Rudd has been busy laying over the past decade.
Opening the show was Canadian singer/songwriter Jeremy Fisher. Although the crowd was clearly waiting for Rudd and his upbeat performance, Fisher's acoustic 1960s throwback material served as nice backing music as concertgoers arrived. If Fisher had displayed more chops on his guitar things probably would have gone a bit better for the Afro-sporting musician. His lack of presence behind the microphone didn't interest the crowd and neither did his slightly corny lyrics. The audience didn't seem to really take notice of Fisher until he bowed off the stage, which got the crowd pumped for Rudd's performance.
Typically acting as a lone gunman in a live setting, it was interesting to see Rudd come out and play with other artists who hold a different understanding of music. Right off the bat, as the band played their first song, it was clear that with Moloantoa and Nqubezelo this show would be uncharacteristic of Rudd's usual performances. The kick drum on Nqubezelo's kit pounded non-stop and added a defined South African sound to the songs. The steady beat, Rudd's lap guitar plucking and Moloantoa's virtuosic bass playing created a sound that conjured thoughts of some sort of organic, world inspired house music.
| Rudd, Moloantoa & Nqubezelo :: 08.18 :: Petaluma, CA|
As Rudd often switched between lap guitar, harmonica, percussion and electric guitar, the three musicians seemed to consistently slow down the groove to concentrate on mellow jams. At times, Rudd played exotic sounding percussion instruments that accompanied Nqubezelo's tempo-centric drumming. The ensuing rhythms were extremely exotic and sounded like something a character in a Joseph Conrad novel would hear as he floated down an African river tributary. Moloantoa's bass playing was equally impressive, as was his stage persona, often walking to the forefront of the stage and making music right in the faces of the crowd as he kept up the backbone of the songs. Rudd was clearly excited about the direction of the music, and his two new musicians, as he occasionally dropped his instruments and danced across the stage and in-between the two South Africans.
Normally playing from a wide selection of different didgeridoos during his live sets, at the Petaluma show Rudd rarely employed the hollowed out wooden instrument. It was surprising that Rudd chose to largely ignore the sound that gives him his notoriety. When the Australian did blow into the didge, though, he demonstrated an understanding of the unique instrument that far surpasses his years. Making an ancient tribal instrument, like the didgeridoo, work in the confines of a modern musical endeavor is no easy task, but Rudd tackles the feat with apparent ease. When he blew into the wooden trumpet, it was like being transported down under and listening to some village elder blow into the musical relic.
While Rudd seemed to be tame on the didgeridoo for the duration of his set, he more than made up for his lack of wind blowing with his encore. Charging full-boar toward an instrumental assault during the last song, the three musicians capped the evening with an unabashed jam that highlighted every performer's talents. All in attendance at the show no doubt wondered if what they just saw between the three performers was the beginnings of a lasting musical relationship or a temporary music foray.
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