I was hoping a good crowd would show for Xavier Rudd even though it was a Wednesday evening. I was feeling more like a nap than a late night show myself, so I know how hard it is for working folks to get motivated on a non-weekend. I needn't have worried. The place was pretty packed when I got there for the last three or four songs of opening act Good Old War, who were already rocking the house, with a rousing cover of Simon and Garfunkel's “Cecilia.”
The crowd definitely leaned toward the alternative-hippie set, but there was a lot of age diversity, which was nice to see. As they set up the stage between acts for Xavier Rudd and his band, you could tell you were in for something a little different. Aside from the standard drum kit, amps, and mikes, a smaller array of drums, chimes, and two yoked didgeridoos crowded together at the front of the stage under a banner that read Save the Kimberley.com .
As Rudd and his South African band members – drummer Andile Nqubezelo and bassist Tio Moloantoa – came on stage, the crowd erupted into energetic cheering, many of them familiar with Rudd if not his new band – this is their first time touring together. They opened with a song about Mother Earth, the rhythm section warming up as Rudd settled in behind the didge, sending its primal thrumming drone into the room to vibrate up through the heels and into your chest. It's a remarkably affective instrument and he is expert at integrating that alien sound into high-energy funk and reggae.
Rudd and crew bring a joyfulness to their playing and performing together that is rare, and the bond they share as friends and musicians is plain to see. Moloantoa is a prodigiously talented bass player, fingers flying, feet dancing, as Nqubezelo keeps them all loosely bound within his beatific smile and dynamic drumming. The aboriginal influences are clear in both the hum of the didge and in the vocalizations that often result in a call-and-answer from the stage to the audience. Rudd is rarely without at least two instruments, and often plays more than two on the same song – harmonica and lap steel, didge and drums and/or guitar – all in addition to singing. He plays with an interesting mix of concentration and looseness, sometimes reminding me of the old “pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time” test of dexterity.
The set included new songs like “Set Me Free” and “Koonyum Sun” from the new album and a mix from Rudd's back catalog like “Messages” and “Let Me Be.” I particularly enjoyed the lovely, slowed-down tempo of “Soften the Blow,” which they played in the encore. Below are some pictures from the show – a little grainy because of the light and the limitations of my camera phone, but I hope they capture some of the energy and spirit of the players.