Although I have always been a tremendous fan of Xavier Rudd, I was a little hesitant to attend his show with his new band, Xavier Rudd & the United Nations, last Saturday at the Bronson Centre in Ottawa. The Bronson Centre itself was a large detractor, as the shows I had seen there previously had awful sound and seating from front to back. I very much enjoyed the band’s new album, Nanna, but I was concerned that this new band would infringe on Xavier Rudd’s loose, flowing jams that are a trademark of his solo shows. In the end I decided to grab a ticket to the show, and my expectations were far beyond surpassed. From beginning to end, Xavier Rudd & the United Nations put on a tremendous show.
Possibly the most important part of this review is the fact that the Bronson Centre is a tremendously improved venue compared to a few years ago. I had been avoiding it for a few years because of previous experiences with dreadful, booming sound in that place. Upon walking in, I noticed that they had replaced the first rows of seating with a GA open floor space, giving the venue a much better space for a fun, upbeat show. I hoped that this change might be an indication that they had fixed the sound as well. Fear the Bronson Centre no longer, the big band sounded crisp, clear, and powerful through the entire show.
My concerns about the music were quickly alleviated as well. Not only did the new songs sound great in a live setting, this band was really allowing the songs to breathe. Long instrumental sections became commonplace throughout the show, including jams that would weave briefly in and out of other Xavier Rudd favourites. The band felt like it could go anywhere and everywhere. While the majority of the show was comprised of the upbeat reggae and afrobeat sound characteristic of Nanna, there was no shortage of beautiful ballads and classic Xavier moments to keep the fans of his old style satisfied. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of all was old songs exquisitely reworked for the United Nations. Songs like “Come Let Go”, “Messages”, and “The Mother” in particular fit so well with this new batch of musicians and became entirely new pieces of music.
The way a show looks and sounds is always of critical importance to touring musicians, but it is extremely rare to find a band that cares so much about the atmosphere at a show that they choose to influence the smell of the show. Every few songs, Xavier Rudd lit up a huge roll of sage incense which immediately filled the room with a spiritual essence. He looked like a shaman as he breathed on the sage bundles to make them burn, sending off a stream of sparks. Unfortunately, lighting sage bundle after sage bundle eventually caught up with them. As a jam descended into an ambient section, a loud alarm began to sound, but because the keyboards were still sustaining an ambient sound and no one was telling us to evacuate, I could not tell whether it was part of the show or a fire alarm. The band left the stage, leaving us totally confused. The smoke from the sage had indeed set off the fire alarm, but no evacuation was necessary. The fire department came by to turn off the alarm, and we awaited the return of the band. Eventually, a rather bold Xavier strode out onto the sage, once again burning a bundle of sage and sending fragrant smoke out into the crowd. That guy should teach Not Giving a Damn 101.
See Xavier Rudd if you can, no matter what incarnation he chooses to play in.