Australia’s Xavier Rudd stepped onto the stage Saturday night at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver and began a droning tune on his didgeridoo that reverberated in the ears and chests of those in attendance. Fans are used to seeing the multi-instrumentalist perform solo–previous stage setups had him playing a stomp box, lap steel guitar and a didgeridoo all at the same time. But this performance was something different, as this is Rudd’s first tour with a backup band, the aptly titled the United Nations.
The concert was an uplifting cultural experience. The United Nations is a lineup of musicians from around the world, including Australia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and South Africa. The six-piece live band features two female backup singers, including Alicia Mellor; drummer Bobby Alu; bassist Tio Moloantoa (aka Uncle Tio, featured on Rudd’s 2010 album “Koonyum Sun”); and flautist Chris Lane. Some of the musicians waved Australian Aboriginal flags and other banners throughout the performance.
Xavier Rudd & The United Nations is touring in support of “Nanna,” released earlier this year. The roots-reggae album is the group’s debut, but Rudd has notched seven studio albums on his belt since 2002. “Nanna” is also Rudd’s first reggae album (his other albums have all been either folk- or blues-based, injected with his own Australian flair). The band played for over an hour and a half, highlighting most of the new album, including songs “Flag,” “Come People” and “Hanalei.” The band also put a new spin on some of Rudd’s older material, including “To Let” (2002), “Solace” (2004) and “Better People” (2007).
Rudd is an activist, and especially outspoken about the rights of Aboriginal Australians, the environment and marine conservation. He touched on these topics in many of his songs last night, most notably during “Land Rights” and “Follow the Sun.” In “The Mother,” Rudd sang of the majesty of Mother Earth’s oceans and mountains. Oddly, the song included a short cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together” in the middle.
Naturally, Rudd had some good things to say about Colorado: “It’s always nice to come to these big mountain communities,” he said after “Come Let Go.” “We come with peace, we come with love in our hearts.” Rudd’s didgeridoo chops were on full display once again toward the end of the set with jammy “Lioness Eye” from “Spirit Bird.”
In addition to the cultural lesson, the show also served up some positive vibrations. Openers Latin L.A. rock legends Ozomatli kicked off a non-stop dance party, warmed up with their unique mix of jazz, funk, salsa and hip-hop. Ozomatli ended their hour-long set by parading through the front of the crowd, playing renditions of the Hokie Pokie and “Tequila” on saxophone and marching snare drum, high-fiving audience members and snapping selfies. Fellow opener Chadwick Stokes of Dispatch and State Radio fame played a brief set of acoustic songs very much in harmony with the vibes of Ozomatli and Xavier Rudd & The United Nations.