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Xavier Rudd 

The Coach House, San Juan Capistrano
4 August 2005

by Gary Schwind

Anyone who listens to Jim Rome's radio show knows that one of the rules of the show is: "If you deserve props, you'll get them, but if you deserve to get smacked, you get smacked." The Coach House deserves a bit of both. First, props to The Coach House for being a very efficient venue. They keep things moving along with minimal time in between performers. On the other hand, since I sat with some friends of mine at one of the tables, I had to order some food. I can live with that. But when I asked for a glass of water, the waitress responded, "I can bring you a bottle." Fine. She brought me a bottle…and a cup to pour it in. I suppose it was just too much work to put the water from the bar into the cup that was placed in front of me. But enough of that.

Just to see Xavier Rudd's setup, you know he is an unusual performer. In front of him are three didgeridoos and an Aztec drum. To his right are some small drums and cymbals and behind him is a gong. And then there are the guitars. All eight of them, including a couple twelve-string guitars and a bass. This guy has more gear than some bands. But he also does a lot more by himself than a lot of bands.

Now you might be wondering, "If he's got didgeridoos, drums and cymbals surrounding him, what on earth does he do with the guitar?" Usually, he plays a square-neck lap slide guitar, but sometimes he goes the standard route.

To give you an idea of how unusual this cat is, after his first song, he said, "I'm lucky. I get to travel and play music. I feel so lucky that people want to come and see me." You hear that, all you musicians that won't perform unless your dressing room is decorated a certain way, or unless a certain color M & Ms are removed from the bowl? He feels lucky to be able to play music when the rest of us stiffs have 9-5 gigs. 

Xavier Rudd's shows really must be seen to be believed. This is a guy that straps bells to his thigh and ankle while he plays guitar, didgeridoo and percussion. He is truly a one-man band, in addition to being a spokesman for peace and Aboriginal Australians. And if there has ever been a less assuming musical prodigy, I don't know who it is. He dressed in a t-shirt and sweat pants and was so soft-spoken, it was sometimes hard to hear him. But a couple things really stood out to me. First, I have never seen such a busy musician. What he does is remarkable. Second, I got the impression that he really feels what he sings about. He really believes that we need to do something about injustice, war and poverty. There is a deep spirituality in Xavier's music that reminds me of Bob Marley. Which reminds me. I was surprised that Xavier didn't perform his cover of "No Woman, No Cry." That would have been a slam-dunk with the south Orange County crowd. Not that I'm disappointed. I can't rightly say that I'm disappointed with any aspect of his show.

The night began with Beth Preston from north San Diego County. She had good energy from the beginning. In fact, her energy was so good, she busted a string during her first song. She was engaging, telling the audience that she had forgotten her playlist, so she would just play what she thought she might have included on her playlist. Also, before one song, she related how, at a festival in Australia, someone taught her to play a tambourine with her feet, which she accomplished pretty well in one song. 

I heard someone compare her to Alanis Morissette. On the one hand, I can see that, because Beth Preston is a woman with a guitar. I think the comparison stops there though, because Beth Preston can sing. She had the energy of Ani DiFranco and vocals similar to Fiona Apple.

Beth Preston was followed by a man called White Buffalo, who stood about 5'3" and went about 125 pounds. Of course, I am kidding. He's a good-size fella and bears the name White Buffalo pretty well. He kind of looked like Grizzly Adams, but with longer hair. He has a big, deep voice that seemed to fill The Coach House with no effort at all. White Buffalo is one of those storytelling singers in the tradition of Cat Stevens, Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash. 

Which brings me to this. White Buffalo was in the midst of "T is for Texas" and as soon as I wrote he word Cash in my little notebook, he broke into a couple verses of "Folsom Prison Blues." 

White Buffalo's most engaging moment came when he broke a string on his guitar. He didn't have a spare, so he looked across the stage at one of Beth Preston's guitars and said, "It might be a little snug." When he strapped on Beth's guitar, it was indeed pretty snug. He stood there with Beth's guitar looking like a ukelele on him, smiled and said "Mariachi!" 

At various points during the set, White Buffalo reminded me of all the songwriters I mentioned earlier. The other comparison that really stood out for me was in his song "See the Sun," which reminded me quite a bit of "Up the Devil's Pay" by Old 97s.

It was a good night at The Coach House with three very talented performers that I would see again. And let's face it, it's always good to go out and find performers that you would see again.


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