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Published: 2014/06/24
by Steph Guinan

Xavier Rudd, Orange Peel, Asheville, NC- 6/21

It was a packed house at Xavier Rudd’s June 21 show of genre-bending, high energy tunes. And though Rudd’s albums have a blend of up-tempo and mellow songs, the show kept the dance party rocking while still managing to hold a soulful and sacred space. Though it might seem contradictory, these two sides of the coin are integral to the message and vibe of Rudd’s music.

Rudd is a multi-instrumentalist and activist whose music has a deep connection to the Aboriginal people of his native Australia. His messages about the environment and spirituality ring true from the big-hearted sound and consciousness-focused lyrics.

Although Rudd is known for playing the didgeridoo (traditionally called the yidaki by indigenous Australians) which he has been playing since age eight, he did not perform with the instrument as much as expected, but its baritone vibrational sound and rhythmic groove were always greeted with resonant cheers. At one point, Rudd wowed everyone by his ability to continue playing the didg while rising up from his seat. Holding the long instrument outstretched in front of him, Rudd glided across the stage, gracefully carrying the instrument while also carrying the music.

For the show, Rudd was joined onstage by Tio Moloantoa, a masterful bassist from South Africa, and Bobby Alu, a Samoan drummer with epic beats. An extraordinary drum solo by Alu impressed the audience and earned bows of respect from his fellow on-stage musicians. Rudd had an obvious camaraderie and an enjoyment of the musicians he was sharing the stage with; their powerful sounds moved Rudd to dance joyously with big, wide movements. At one point Rudd even hopped up onto a speaker adjacent the stage to boogie to his friends’ big beats.

In addition to performing his own tunes, the night had flashes of cover songs including Beatles’ “Come Together” and Hendrix’s “Fire.” But notably, the trio did an unlikely cover for their first encore song: a reggae version of “Time after Time” by Cyndi Lauper. A steady groove paired with the familiar tune had an ocean of people singing and swaying.

For the final song of the night, Rudd performed “Spirit Bird” with an obvious shift from the dance party to a quiet soulfulness. During this end cap to a moving evening, the audience fully participated as a collective voice, chanting a powerful rhythm for Rudd to let his guitar dance around.

The Asheville show is in the middle of Rudd’s summer tour. He has already made stops in Hawaii, Colorado, and Nashville. Next up, Rudd will play the Brooklyn Bowl before a making his way back across the country to the west coast, ending in Mexico City in July. Rudd’s next album is scheduled to be released in March 2015 and will include both of the musicians that he shared the stage with as well as four other musicians to make up an eight-person reggae band.

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