Australian indie rocker Xavier Rudd grew up with a special fondness for making music using the hose from the vacuum cleaner.
It was an apt beginning for the singer/songwriter who plays over 20 musical instruments, but is best known for his prodigious use of the didgeridoo, the traditional Australian Aboriginal instrument, which he pairs with a pumping percussion experience for a frenzy of ecstatic folk rock.
Rudd played Tel Aviv on November 12, in a rousing solo show at Hangar 11, his first show in Israel since 2019. Israeli artist Orka, known for her sacred singing circles, and Rotem Bar Or, of indie band the Angelcy, opened the concert. They collaborated for some of Bar Or’s songs, including his ukelele-driven “Giant Heart” duet.
But for much of the over-two-hour concert, Rudd sat alone on stage, surrounded by an intricate set-up of the dozens of instruments he plays, switching between banjos and at least four didgeridoos, electric guitars, chimes, dobros, drum sets, harmonica, and lap steel guitar. His music is a combination of reggae, indie, and fusion, with traditional Aboriginal chanting and a heavy dose of protest folk-rock, for issues close to his heart, such as environmental activism and indigenous rights.
Tel Aviv was Rudd’s last stop on a 50-city European tour, and he was genuine, but also genuinely tired. He carries the entire two-hour and 15-minutes show all by himself, with no breaks.
“This is a really special moment for us, because we’ve been in Europe for a few months,” said Rudd. “This is show 50, on our way home.”
When Rudd took his place behind the custom didgeridoos/percussion setup for his more upbeat numbers, the crowd jumped in unison, helping raise the energy.
Many of Rudd’s songs are inspired by interactions with Australian birds, and recordings of more than 30 local birds are featured in his songs. Rudd’s most transcendent anthem, Spirit Bird, narrates a spiritual experience he had with a red-tailed black cockatoo in the Australian outback. He opened his show with “I am Eagle,” the first song on his 2022 album “Jan Juc Moon.” Rudd’s 10th studio album is named after the area in Australia where he grew up.
Rudd uses no screens or special effects beyond stage lights and a large moon that hung over the stage, letting the music alone carry the audience as they swayed together, hugging each other and raising their arms in the air.
The artist first burst onto the international music scene while living in Canada in 2001, and the Tel Aviv crowd included fans who have followed Rudd throughout his entire career, as well as younger audience members familiar with his best hits.
Rudd’s most famous song, “Follow the Sun,” is a hopeful, upbeat ode to staying in sync with the cycles of the earth and the sun, and had the entire crowd shouting the lyrics.
Rudd played barefoot on Saturday, as always. The musician is famous for only wearing shoes while snowboarding (though he has previously released a line of Xavier Rudd sandals). He has said that bare feet help him find tone on the stompbox, a percussion instrument he plays with his foot that sounds like a bass drum.
Rudd, who has Aboriginal, Scottish, and Irish ancestry, also uses the stage to speak about his activism for the environment and anti-racism work supporting Australia’s Aboriginal community.
“When we play music, we travel with the spirit of our homeland,” Rudd said on Saturday, in one of the few times he addressed the crowd, just before the song “Storm Boy.” “This is a culture that, for over 60,000 years, lived in harmony with the Earth… When the British colonized Australia the culture was devastated. A lot of people of all different bloodlines in our country are working together to build those bridges of reconciliation because we want to keep those spirits strong. So when we travel, we like to bring that spirit of reconciliation.”
Rudd last played Israel in 2019 with two shows at the Shuni Amphitheater near Binyamina with a full band, and saw some pressure from BDS activists to cancel the shows in Israel.
At the time, he wrote on Instagram that his journey to Israel was “extremely powerful and emotional at times,” noting that he would have loved to play a show in both Israel and the Palestinian territories, but it was not logistically possible.
He also said then that “all of our ancestors around this big beautiful planet” have suffered from oppression, but… ceremonies of love and unity through music are extremely important and “provide some of the best medicine on the planet and should be limited to no one.”