Amid the throng of scummy dreadlocks and the occasional waft of pot smoke, Xavier Rudd takes to the stage wearing a distractingly ridiculous hat which looks liked it’s made from the skin of a dead muppet.
He begins his set where he seems most comfortable (and where he has made his reputation as a dynamic, if sedentary, performer): behind his one-man-band throne of drums, stomp box, didgeridoo and lap guitar.
The style and tone of the new ensemble would appeal to an artist with Rudd’s roots-reggae pedigree on paper. Maybe even in the studio it sounds like a perfect match, but on stage the slapping, banging depth of the extra sound is discordant with the pared back sound Rudd is renowned for in his live performances and his earlier albums.
But the benefit of extra musicians on stage is that Rudd gets to stretch his legs. Older, better-known tunes have Rudd sitting behind his rig, but with the newer stuff he’s free to roam. Despite playing the entire set in bare feet, as is his custom, he utilises every part of the stage, energetically running around and, during one song, getting some lucky punters on stage for their very own Courtney Cox/Bruce Springsteen Dancing In The Dark moment. Then crowd pleaser Let Me Be gets the full band treatment and lasts for a satisfying 10 minutes, ending the main set.
The encore is energetic, and even if the material has been exhausted, the band never stops giving their best. Cheered on by a not-too-discerning audience of fellow antipodeans crammed in to every nook of the venerable venue, Rudd and his bandmates play well off the palpable energy of the room.
The final song of the night, Green Spandex, sees Rudd standing alone on stage with just a guitar. It proves to be a nice denouement, a good way to send away a West London a crowd who were, if not mindblown, at least primed for a night out.
Xavier Rudd @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London