Words By: Joe Whitlock
Photos By: Billy Heigl (Gallery)
I walked out of my front door and was immediately enveloped by the muggy summer air. As I walked along the beltline I happened to turn my gaze skyward, and saw a bird soaring majestically through the clouds. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was a hawk, a bird of prey, which gracefully glides along until the right opportunity arises. Then it strikes. With blazing speed and acrobatic agility it does what Mother Nature built it to do. That trivial glance upward filled my head with thoughts of purpose and my body with feelings of appreciation. I was on my way to a show at The Variety Playhouse and those same thoughts and feelings would well up again a few short hours later.
Xavier Rudd was born in Torquay, Australia in 1978. As he grew up and began to show a propensity for music, his Aussie roots influenced the direction he would take. The Aboriginal peoples of his native land would lend him both a sense of respect for the natural world and an appreciation of traditional instruments. After my reflective walk to the show, I, along with a vocal and passionate crowd, was treated to both.
Xavier appeared on stage looking very much the part of Vegetarian/Surfer/Musician. Unkempt hair, flip flops and a tank top will do that to just about anyone. Now, I’m not a style critic, or even much of an observer, but this was about more than style. This was the outer crust of substance. It was the first glimpse at the vibe that was slowly swelling in the audience. The flags hanging behind the stage, the ornate artwork on the guitar, and the ever present didgeridoo all helped set the tone for the music that was to come.
The show opened with a slow, melodic, almost ethereal tune that led me into a mellow head space I would have been happy to remain in throughout the night. As the music began to unfurl in front of me, the pace would often quicken, infusing the room with energy, and allowing the vibe to surround us all. Xavier’s high toned, accent tinged vocals gave body to the often simple rhythms, filling out the easy going, softer tunes that reminded me of sand and sea. I was not, however, going to be allowed to lounge on the beach all night. Swift, passionate forays into driving bass and blistering slide guitar would jolt the audience into fits of dancing faster than you can say didgeridoo. Speaking of that crazy, mystical instrument, it was put to wonderful use. All throughout the show Xavier was able to work the crowd into a frenzy with the deeply resonant, pulsing drones that only the didgeridoo can produce.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the significance of the lyrics in Xavier Rudd’s music. All night long his songs were laced with both the struggles of people trying to survive and the unstoppable force of the human spirit. Calling upon his roots in Australia as well as his study of Native American music, he was at times able to propel songs to another plane without using actual words. The impassioned chants that spontaneously burst forth seemed to link the present to the past and the people to the earth. It was during one of those aboriginal chants that I found myself thinking again of the hawk I observed on the way to the show. Graceful yet powerful. The music was as relaxing and heady as any could be, until just the right moment. Then it would strike with speed and gravity, reminding everyone of the connection we all share. Xavier Rudd is simply doing what Mother Nature designed him to do. I left the show that night feeling grateful to have been a part of such a beautiful scene.