Words by Lara Purvis
Xavier Rudd :: 05.15 :: Le Spectrum de Montreal :: Montreal, QC
Sometimes you go to a show solely for the music, sometimes solely for the vibes. Sometimes the overall night leaves you with such a great feeling that it doesn't matter if the music itself doesn't blow you away. But then there is the odd time when all of that kind of bypasses you – you're immersed in the music, watching the joyful crowd, and wondering why you're not feeling it.
Xavier Rudd by Joel Johnston
What I have learned is that Xavier Rudd is not just a musician. These days he is the full package deal. For Montreal music-lovers, the show was a lesson in Australian history and Aboriginal culture and a night of inspirational energy and love, which is a great coincidence for Xavier because it supports his new album, Food in the Belly, beautifully.
Le Spectrum is a fantastic venue in the heart of Montreal's buzzing downtown. The large dance floor is surrounded by a horseshoe of seated areas on two levels. It was an hour and a half before the opening act, and there was not an empty seat to be found. The joy of this venue is that it is nearly impossible to be in a bad spot; from every angle you have a clean sight line to the stage. The sold out show held 1250 fans, yet aside from the dance floor, it didn't feel crowded.
The dance floor filled up early, and the crowd was rowdy but full of smiles. The opening act, Serena Ryder, took the stage, acoustic guitar in hand. The young Canadian musician, originally from Peterborough, has apparently been taking the folk world by storm. A small woman, she could have been dwarfed by the large stage and rambunctious crowd; however, within moments her presence and her big smile demanded the crowd's attention. Loud-mouthed and gutsy, she belted out her tunes with a sexual snort, imprinting her distinct voice on all our minds. The crowd responded with surprise, which quickly turned into whoops of joy and encouragement.
It was a long wait for Xavier as folks crammed themselves close to the stage. The crowd roared when the lights finally dimmed, only to see a grey-haired Aboriginal woman walk up to the microphone. Solid and unmoved, she waited for the crowd to hush, then began a blessing poem, calling in the spirits for tonight's festivities. The impatient crowd was surprisingly respectful and attentive. They roared at the sight of Xavier when he stepped on stage to thank her with a hug.
But that was not the end, nor the beginning. Xavier then introduced his "brother," Ghumbala – a white-faced, dark-skinned, shirtless, bushy-haired, Aboriginal man. Much to the dismay of the fans, Xavier exited the stage again, while Ghumbala proceeded to give the crowd a lesson in playing the yidaki (Xavier's preferred name for the didgeridoo) with some amusingly suggestive hints.
Xavier Rudd & Aboriginal Announcer by Seth Rubin
With Ghumbala thanked, Xavier wasted no time, seating himself amidst his instruments and diving into a rocking piece with a smile. The music, as always, was organic and casual, and the earthy drone of the didgeridoo was welcomed each time by the crowd. Xavier’s foot drum, which he plays barefoot, created a mesmerizing chest-thumping beat, felt with every breath. He played confidently and patiently, waiting for each note with an air of nonchalance. Between songs Xavier addressed the crowd with a lovely Aussie mumble. He even bravely tried his hand at a bit of French to the delight of the mostly Francophone crowd. They were receptive and easily pleased, grateful for the opportunity to dance. Xavier played a solid set, an even balance of songs from both Solace and Food in the Belly. Songs from Food In The Belly, which has received mixed reviews, were greeted with joy. In fact, fans sung along to almost every single song, including those on the new album, which is impressive considering it's only been out in Canada for about a month.
I warily watched the crowd scream their adoration. It's true, the songs were superior to the album versions – more energetic, more emotional, more substantial. Yet there was a sense of disquiet within me. I wasn't buying it in the way everyone else was, and I didn't know why. It's true the joyful crowd is refreshing and the rapport between Xavier and his fans is touching, but the massive hippie tie-dye tapestries in the background, the Aboriginal guests, and the spotlight falling dramatically upon the large Australian flag each time the didge started up left me with a hint of a circus feel. Evidently, I was in the minority; therefore, I must have been wrong. The Hippie-Australian-Aboriginal vibe is the real thing, not a marketing ploy.
Xavier Rudd by Joel Johnston
I try, but somehow I'm not convinced.
What I could not doubt was Xavier's delight in the receptive crowd. His lyrics are strung with good intentions, and his smile appears genuine. There is beauty in his presence on stage. Golden-haired, he is framed by a gleaming rig of didgeridoos, a selection of drums and chimes, his slide guitar, and an acoustic guitar. The picture was impressive, and the music, wholesome. I made an effort to lose the circus feel and to focus on the music. Unfortunately, we were only one-third of the way through the night when I felt I had heard enough. There is repetitiveness in the beats, the songs, the message – and having heard Xavier several times before, it wasn't long before I tired of it.
What I do know is that even if Xavier would not be my entertainment of choice when I truly wanted to rock out, if I wanted to take my young son to a show, Xavier's would be the one. The messages are clean, uplifting, and inspirational. The music is earthy, the beat strong and simple. There can be a role, albeit a different one, for Xavier's music and his positive message in my life.
Xavier Rudd by Joel Johnston
The crowd received his final song with a standing ovation. Lights on, he walked along the front of the stage clasping the hands of his fans like he was Mother Teresa before heading backstage. The screaming didn't last too long before he was back for his encore, hands prayer-like, bowing his gratitude.
The encore was almost ten songs long. For real. It was surreal, I felt like I was dreaming. I really enjoyed a couple of songs, particularly a not-yet-named new piece about the Aborigines in Australia reclaiming their land rights, spears in hand upon a tall mountain. But for the most part, I made an effort to enjoy the other songs. Truth is, the experience of the night was seriously marred by the length of the never-ending encore. With legs aching after the second song, even the third, I was still able to say, "Good show," and knew this must be it. By the seventh song in the encore, I was slumped against a wall, resigned and miserable, but the rest of the crowd, still attentive and charged with Xavier's positive energy, lapped it up.
What was confirmed for me this night is that Xavier's unique sound and his "good energy" message is fantastic - in small doses. The great thing is - he lives in Australia, which means he will be met with joy each time he travels to this Aussie-loving continent, not only for his accent but also because as we all know, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Works like a charm.
As I left the venue I overheard someone saying, "It's not that the music is that good. It's just the vibe is so fucking awesome." I nodded as I passed. With that I could agree.
JamBase | Montreal
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