Live: Xavier Rudd Summons Aboriginal Spirits at the House of Blues

by Casey Dolan

Armed with a formidable phalanx of three didgeridoos, angled toward the audience like trumpeting Tibetan horns, a batterie of percussion instruments, several Weissenborn lap steels and accompanied by the reliable, hard-hitting drummer, Dave Tolley, Australian Xavier Rudd brought the spirit of a beach party possessed by spirits into the House of Blues on Sunset Blvd. last night.

It’s easy to see how the jamband party crowd would embrace the festival stalwart — the emphasis on extended improvisation over simple drones, the lyrics extolling a universal connection with nature, the nods toward reggae and vocal Marleyisms and Rudd’s own ecstatic beams when the music soared. Indeed, there are many surface connections to jamband perennials as Dave Matthews and surfer-songwriter, Jack Johnson.

But it’s when he gets a bit hairy, when he lets the feedback (who has ever heard a lap steel sound like this?) shake the building’s foundations, when the low engine rumble of his didgeridoo does something funny with your lower intestinal tract, that’s when Mr. Rudd separates himself from the pack and aligns himself with  cross-cultural sonic painters like Michael Brook or Steve Tibbetts.

In “Messages,” one of his most popular songs from 2005’s “Food in the Belly,” Rudd confronts how some people cannot understand the signs given to heal an endangered planet. But the lyrics are couched in references to aboriginal mysticism and dreamtime:

Let me see through your eyes
Where there is so much light
We are biding our time
For these myths to unwind
For these changes we will confront

Rudd sings a curiously cheerful melody over these lyrics like a “Graceland”-era Paul Simon, even fingerpicks like him, but the intention is to connect to a deep indigenous past.

Much of Rudd’s set drew upon his new album, “Dark Shades of Blue,” an apt title as the album emphasizes a more ominous ambience than normally found grilling shrimp on the beach. Occasionally, the sound was truly overwhelming (and surprising, considering only two musicians were producing it). Opening number, “Black Water,” almost sounded as if it could have been part of the nu-metal scene, a la Isis or Red Sparowes. When Tolley laid down a solid dance beat behind the enveloping wash, the effect was intoxicating and bacchanalian.

"Dark Shades of Blue"

“Dark Shades of Blue”

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