Words By: Chason Heins
Photos By: Greg Horowitz
Music has a magical way of connecting people from one side of the world to the other, consistently breaking the barriers of both language and distance. For some it’s simply a release, an occasional way of escaping the grind of daily life, while others seem to seek it out on a daily basis almost as if it were their religion of choice, always looking for that next great show. Regardless of the reason, music seems to always be there for both the good and the bad, offering something uniquely different to each and every one of us along the way. This may never have been more apparent than on June 24th at the Brooklyn Bowl where Xavier Rudd and special guest Ash Grunwald delivered a night full of these magical moments.
Getting the night started in proper fashion Ash Grunwald took to the stage in front of an already packed house. This was my first chance to hear him live and proved to be a great example of why you should never miss the show opener. This one-man band played sitting down for his entire set allowing him to play the bass drum with one foot and what seemed to be an electronically controlled snare with the other, all while singing and adding some well delivered guitar riffs. Highlights for me were plentiful but possibly my favorite was an original tune “Just Be Yourself” where his vocals shined while intertwining perfectly with the growls of his blues guitar. This song very much made me feel as If I was listening to a modern day B.B. King and the feeling was cemented even further when he dove into “Crossroad Blues.” This Robert Johnson classic was a nice treat allowing Ash to show his true roots and do what he does best while paying homage to one of the greatest blues musicians of his time. This was a very enjoyable set of music from the opening guitar riffs soaked in blues and dripping with soul to the closing reverb from the speakers as he left the stage. Some performers have a way of making you feel at home with their music and he is one of them. His songs have a way of making you feel as if you know them even though you may have never heard them before. There is no doubt Ash is a man who is exactly where he should be, on a stage delivering his powerful music to everyone willing to listen.
As the already crowded venue began to pack in even more, there was a roar from the crowd as Xavier and friends made their way towards the stage. The band made up of bassist, Tio Moloantoa and percussionist, Bobby Alu, seemed to be as excited as the crowd for their first performance in Brooklyn, New York. The set begins with a little jam between members and when the drums become dark and heavy the band moves into “The Mother.” As Xavier sings of the earth, the band changes direction for a moment mixing in the Beatles hit “Come Together” with Bobby on vocals; these two songs blend well together making this a special treat, kicking off the set in stellar fashion. The audience seems to hang on every word, with the overall energy sky high, the band moves into one of my personal favorites, “Follow the Sun.” This song captures all that is Xavier as he breaks out his harmonica which blends in perfectly to the acoustic guitar of the tune. The lyrics and music together seem to create a feeling of bliss throughout the building as the crowd sings along to each and every word. Taking a moment to look around, it’s impossible to not feel as if we are all one in this moment of time. Each and every person’s eyes locked on the stage with arms raised high and smiles as wide as the room itself. As the set moves along, one can easily see the energy and excitement that is flowing through the crowd, but most of all, the band themselves have just as much. Xavier began to dance around the stage with his bassist Tio Moloantoa joining in.
Both musicians smiling while their frenzied dance moves only helped to increase the overall energy in the room as the opening notes of “Come Let Go” began to emerge from the stage. This song to me is as uplifting as it gets and seems to allow Xavier to display his ability to captivate a crowd through his music perfectly. From the dark and mesmerizing tones that seamlessly float out of his didgeridoo, an aboriginal instrument which was created well over a thousand years ago, to the melodic screams of his harmonica, this set flowed effortlessly from start to finish. Taking a brief pause, Xavier makes an offering to his people who for years have been suffering at the hand of their government. As he speaks you can feel the pain and sadness that exists in his heart from the years of mistreatment his people have faced, but also the pride and determination he has within him to right these wrongs. He uses his music to spread his word and to connect to his fans in a way no one else does, creating an enjoyable and uplifting evening each and every time he takes the stage. Moving along with the set, the pace picks right back up with the upbeat reggae styled “Let Me Be” which gets the crowd moving yet again while allowing him to show off his impressive vocal range. Cranking the already high energy up another notch the band ends the set with maybe the most powerfully upbeat tune of the night, “Footprint.” This song has a steadily flowing beat and amped up guitar riffs that are paired expertly with inspired vocals and some truly dark and captivating tones from his ever present didgeridoo. As the song ends the band thanks the crowd as they leave the stage to cheers and screams of joy.
After a brief moment backstage, the band returned to the stage for a fun and well delivered take on the Cyndi Lauper hit, “Time After Time.” This was an enjoyable treat for all those in attendance leading into a well-played version of fan favorite, “Energy.” This song ended the night for the band as they walk off thanking the crowd leaving Xavier alone for the evenings’ final tune, “Spirit Bird.” This is a powerfully engaging song that seems to connect the room and Xavier as one yet again, creating one final moment of musical and emotional bliss. Time and time again Xavier seems to find ways to connect to his audience on a level much deeper than the music alone, creating unforgettable moments song after song from show to show. This is one musician I feel it is necessary for everyone to hear and see perform at least one time after which I am fully confident they will keep on coming back for more every chance they get.