A very moving performance of ‘Green Spandex’ opens the encore and emphasises Rudd’s vocal strengths.
The Zoo Twilights concert program has been host to a variety of artists over the years, some more suited to the unusual setting than others. On February 15, Xavier Rudd, flanked by the Sea Shepherd and Aboriginal flags, performed with talented Samoan drummer, Bobby Alu, in a show that sold out well in advance.
The show commences with ‘Bow Down’ from Rudd’s latest album, Spirit Bird, which begins with a soundtrack of distorted voice recordings and chanting before they fade out and Xavier’s own diminutive voice and steel string slide guitar are heard, an unusual contrast with the former and one that I’m not sure works. The adjacent lions roar during the soundtrack, but become eerily silent once Rudd starts singing.
While Rudd’s voice could be described as reedy in a Paul Simon kind of way, and soulful in a Ben Harper kind of way, it has its own resonance and power as it meanders through his musical offerings in his characteristically humble but self-assured way. There is a presence about Rudd that permeates our surrounds; the crowd is peaceful and polite despite it being a sell-out event. There is a calm and goodwill.
There is no doubt that Rudd is a talented musician and while he applies himself to each song in a studied way, he exhibits the ease of someone who is genuinely gifted, so that it becomes effortless to listen to him. He plays numerous instruments: various steel string slide guitars, the harmonica, the didgeridoo, the stomp box and drums; and uses electronics in looping and sound tracks. Rudd’s music is undoubtedly focused around rhythm and a greater depth is achieved with the addition of drummer, Bobby Alu, who brings vibrancy and faultless beats. There is a genuine rapport between the two men which adds to the cohesion of the music and the enjoyment of the audience.
Rudd plays for almost two hours, unbroken, in humid conditions, often playing multiple instruments simultaneously. He then returns for an encore. Interestingly, while most songs performed are from Spirit Bird, a distinctive blend of blues fused with traditional Indigenous sound, the encore returns to Rudd’s folk roots, just him and his guitar, no slide. A very moving performance of ‘Green Spandex’ opens the encore and emphasises Rudd’s vocal strengths: the sweet vulnerability of his voice, which cracks slightly. This is a standout for me.
The lighting is understated and suitable for the venue, at times adding to a hypnotic, trancelike quality achieved through the rhythm of the didge and drums. The sound is mostly good although there is a resonance and vibration in the bass at times, present throughout the supporting act and Rudd’s performance which is distracting and unpleasant. Given that the performance revolves around rhythm and bass this is not an insignificant issue.
Overall, I can see why this is a sell-out event. Xavier Rudd is a professional who appears to give more than just his music to the audience. There is an undeniable engagement in the event and the sense that it is an experience rather than just a concert. This may be a result of Rudd’s intense spirituality which imbues the performance with a kind of shared consciousness; maybe it’s the ‘one love, one mob’ mantra that Rudd espouses. Whatever the case, it is a great night out.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Zoo Twilights, Melbourne Zoo
Mixed events 24 January - 8 March