w/ Bobby Alu
September 24, 2019 at Paradise Rock Club
It’s probably been a while since Paradise Rock Club saw a didgeridoo.
That definitely changed after Australian singer and multi-instrumentalist, Xavier Rudd, played there September 24, nearing the end of the World Tour for his 2018 album, Storm Boy. A handful of audience members sporting wide-brimmed hats waited expectantly to see the rocker from Down Under. In addition to his loyal following in his own country, Rudd has a smaller, but very dedicated fanbase here in the United States, many of whom were in attendance and ready for a riveting night of music.
Opener Bobby Alu, a Samoan-Australian, started the show by playing a baritone ukulele. He explained to the audience how his cultural upbringing influenced his music, setting the tone for a unique, intimate night. His music could easily have been played in his beach hometown of Byron Bay, with his smooth voice giving off Jack Johnson vibes. He also incorporated his impressive percussion skills into the set, playing a captivating solo on a full kit, as well as parts on bongos and other traditional wooden percussion instruments. To end his set, Alu taught the audience some of his native Samoan language and encouraged them to sing along. Despite the relatively unknown artist, there was a strong sense of camaraderie in the crowd.
The main event began when a barefoot Xavier Rudd walked onstage with his two backup musicians, playing “The Mother”, which is a song celebrating nature from his 2005 album Food in the Belly. As the lights flashed, a twinkling, starry backdrop came into view behind the band, making the audience feel like they might actually be out in the Australian outback.
Despite being on tour for Storm Boy, Rudd included plenty of songs from the other albums in his vast discography. Between many of the songs, he played instrumental breakdowns on didgeridoo and drums, often simultaneously. His musical breakdowns, as well as his overall style, ,incorporate elements of folk, reggae, and rock, keeping the audience energized throughout the whole performance.
In addition to the expected guitars and drums of the typical contemporary artist, Rudd incorporated less common, more traditional Australian instruments into his set, like the didgeridoo. His performance further emphasized his loyalty to Australia by waving an Aboriginal flag: a yellow sun on a backdrop of red and black. The singer is known in his home country for his activism on behalf of the Indigenous community, and being far from home didn’t stop him from relaying that message. Other topics he spoke about include climate change and oppressive governments, and while he didn’t explicitly name the current American president, it was clear he didn’t just mean his own.
The first song where the audience truly sang along was “Walk Away,” one of the more popular tracks from Storm Boy. The title track from the album also received a considerable amount of excitement later on in the set, making it clear that Rudd’s newest album had been a hit with this particular crowd.
One of the most energetic points in the set was when Rudd came down into the audience, donning a glittering sequin jacket for “Flag.” Sparkling as his jacket reflected the stage lights, he joined the crowd in singing along to the song’s strong reggae beat, prompting plenty of shouting and excitement.
Unlike his opener, this was by far the most interactive his set got. While he did break from playing a few times to address his listeners, most of the set flowed from one song to the next with very little speaking in between. However, this wasn’t a detriment to the rapt attention of his fans, and instead only added to the intense, uninterrupted energy in the room.
As an encore, Rudd performed “Lioness Eye,” followed by one of his most popular tracks, “Spirit Bird.” As the opening notes played, the room fell into complete silence, only breaking when the audience sang along passionately to the chorus.
“Rain, hail, or shine, though, aren’t we lucky?” Rudd told the audience during his set. “There’s plenty of love in this room.”