I’ll be the first to admit — I never got the Jack Johnson vibe. If I put on a CD by Johnson, within minutes I find myself…vacuuming. But a lot of other people dig his stuff, in droves. At a sold-out concert of his I was surprised to see hundreds of hard-core Johnson fans huddled well beyond the event’s perimeter. He is, I suppose, the current big Kahuna of surf.
There was a Jack Johnson let’s-make-pancakes-then-save-some-whales feel that slipped around Australian singer-songwriter Xavier Rudd’s bare feet like tidewater in the early days of his career. But when I read that Rudd had likened one of his later CDs to a journey into his own neuroses, I began to take more interest. “I needed to go into the dark rooms inside myself and clean off some dusty shelves,” he told a reporter about his 2008 release Dark Shades of Blue.
Rudd has been called a didgeridoo virtuoso. Not the first choice of musical instruments among emerging pop stars, didgeridoos are primitive wooden tubes said to have been made hollow by termites living in the Australian outback. They can make an almost satanic sound. Rudd sits behind a stand of didgeridoos onstage and is surrounded by percussion instruments and guitars, key among them a Weissenborn acoustic slide. Rudd’s electric guitar has acquired more grit from the reggae influence in his show. These days he’s more Sting and less Jack Johnson, with an authoritative punch added by the addition of a South African bassist-drummer rhythm section.
A few years ago Rudd and his wife were featured in an architecture rag for the self-sustaining home they built near Melbourne. I asked him what it’s like, living off the grid, and he emailed back: “It takes some work, dedication, and knowledge, and sometimes some problem solving, but it is a great feeling. And the silence is amazing.”
XAVIER RUDD: Belly Up, Tuesday, August 17, 9 p.m. 858-481-8140. Sold out.