LIVE REVIEW: Xavier Rudd at Shepherds Bush Empire

Xavier Rudd at Shepherds Bush Empire
© Awais

One of the things that makes a great artist is their diversity and plethora of ideas. Xavier Rudd, being of Aboriginal, Irish and Scottish heritage, was at an excellent advantage to develop many ideas, which has enabled him over the past two decades to make songs incorporating socially conscious themes, such as spirituality, humanity, environmentalism and the rights of Indigenous Australians.

Rudd's imagination and ability to innovate were realised at a young age, from using his mother's vacuum cleaner as a makeshift didgeridoo to selling recycled wood through his own furniture business. Having just released his tenth studio album Jan Juc Moon and nominated for the National Indigenous Music Awards, Rudd took to the road to wow the Australian diaspora.

Xavier Rudd believes in the power and impact of lighting. For the opening song "I Am Eagle" from Jan Juc Moon, the brilliance of this multi-instrumental solo artist was skewered by noxious circular orange flashlights. If was as if you can't bring Icarus to the sun, we'll bring the sun to Icarus. "I Am Eagle" had everything one expected live, passionate vocals, didgeridoo, percussion and drumming and subtle accompanying organ. However, the lighting not only obstructed the audience's ability to see Rudd but also caused discomfort.

Thankfully as the set continued, the lighting intensity revealed a backdrop of stunning aboriginal artwork and a globe in the top left corner of the stage, which changed colours like an elegant chameleon. The aboriginal flag could now be seen underneath his keyboard. The best part of the light settling was seeing the Spartan-dressed Rudd himself simultaneously operate the plethora of electronic and traditional instruments. His voice which brought together the best of Maverick Sabre and Michael David Rosenberg (Passenger) with global folk and reggae twists, could now be fully appreciated.

Eight of the 18 songs performed were from Jan Juc Moon, but Xavier also went as far back as 2005, playing songs including "Energy Song" from his Food in the Belly LP. On the surface and to a novice listener streaming Rudd's hits for the first time, one could mistakenly classify him as a happily chilled Jack Johnson with a pinch of aboriginal influences thrown in for good measure. This misconception was best debunked when Rudd's support act, multi-instrumentalist and singer Bobby Alu, who coined himself "the skinniest Samoan in the world", joined Xavier on stage for two songs.

Xavier Rudd at Shepherds Bush Empire
© Awais

The first, "Ball and Chain," whilst using reggae piano chords, was an original indigenous aboriginal-influenced Rudd song first. Whilst the reggae beat had people relaxed and chilled, the lyrics "systems gonna customise ya, the man he gotta redefine ya…" spoke volumes. The rap performed by Alu, which included the lyrics "same cycle continues and follows the same sequence screaming for change, and it's bringing out inner demons…" not only spoke to Rudd and Alu's core audience, it addressed all those let down by institutions who should be better addressing basic human needs.

The second song featuring Alu, "Come let Go", also had a reggae beat and kept people dancing and off their seats. The piano chords from "Ball and Chain" were replaced with "No Woman No Cry" organ arrangements". With "Come let Go" being non-political, celebrating the natural beauty of the world with the harmonica country and kookaburra bird sounds, the audience could truly be lost in the moment.
The song that Shepherds Bush felt best celebrated the natural world was saved as the playout before the encore, "Follow the Sun". Whilst over ten years old, the advice of the following lyrics still holds true "When you feel this crazy society adding to the strain, take a stroll to the nearest water's edge…".

In Australia, Xavier Rudd is a household name with eight top ten albums and several awards who mastered the art of audience participation. Sadly outside of Australia, his genius is mainly known to Australian ex-pats as Rudd as well as Alu have much wisdom to offer everyone.

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