Sunday, September 14, 2008

Down Under Was On Top

In my attempt to "Australia-ize" myself, I happily accepted an invitation to see Xavier Rudd, the Aussie Jack Johnson, of sorts. He's certainly got the surfer-hippie-beach vibe down, his music has a distinct reggae-island tone and he's playful, humble and charming like a modern-day Crocodile Dundee.
More importantly, though, the man is a multi-instrumentalist wonder. And I do wonder, in fact, if there is anything he can't play. I was witness to him on an acoustic guitar, a Weissenborn slide guitar, a harmonica, a synthesizer, drums (plus the bongos at drummer Dave Tolley's set) and the cherished native Aussie instrument, the didgeridoo.

Now, as Americans, we don't know what we're missing by our ignorance of this instrument. It's reminiscent of those long Swiss horns made famous by the Ricola TV commercials, only more of a straight, hollow wooden pole, traditionally made out of eucalyptus. It was created and originally played by the Australian Aboriginees. It creates a percussive, constant sound not unlike a synthesizer, and each of Rudd's three didgeridoos had a different pitch. Apparently they work somewhat like a harmonica in that the sound and breathing is cyclical and constant, with tones both on the inhale and the exhale. This has led some to believe that playing the didgeridoo is a good cure for snoring and sleep apnea... whaddyaknow? (I want this one)

Opening for Xavier Rudd (for all of the shows on his North America tour) was a Nashville folk singer, Griffin House. His acoustic sound and wistful, romantic lyrics ("Any guy who would say goodbye to you is out of his mind") would be more fitting for a coffeehouse or small venue than the flashy Nokia theater in Times Square. Nevertheless, the crowd was seduced by his southern charm through his brief but engaging act. He spoke of returning with his band, with his sights set on playing the Bowery Ballroom. I will be there if he comes.


A lot of times at local shows, the doors are opened to the venue long before the first act takes the stage. People tend to mill around, drinking and mingling amid the anxious and enthusiastic energy of the empty space. I found it quite curious then, and amusing really, that at the Nokia theater, of the hundred or so people who chose to enter the vast space early (separate from those who preferred to mingle outside the theater at one of two large bars), most were just chilling on the floor. I mean literally, sitting or even laying on the floor of the venue in the blue mood lights.
(By the way, the lighting engineer at the Nokia theater rocks. True, he or she clearly has awesome equipment to play with, but I was thoroughly impressed with the specificity with which Rudd's set was complimented and dramatized by the lighting.)

Back to the point: Who sits on the floor at an indoor concert hall? I can't wait for the day that this trend makes its way downtown to Bowery Ballroom or the Mercury Lounge...

(Didgeridoo photos from