Initially, I was afraid that my friendly chat with Nahko earlier that night (read the full interview here) might make me biased and that I would have trouble criticising his performance if he didn’t quite hit the mark. Yet never have I been so unjustly worried as the performance that Nahko and Medicine For The People delivered was one of fine tuned musicianship.
Borrowing from a vast array of artists including Bob Marley, AWOLNATION and Xavier Rudd himself, defining their sound into one genre is no easy task. Even individual songs are comprised of a range of differing components.
Aloha Ke Akua for example began with Nahko Bear singing by himself and strumming the guitar. Here the basic chord structure of the music aided in reinforcing the reflective lyrics that Nahko uttered with his sweet alto – soprano voice. The whole audience was entranced and focused on his striking and poignant performance. This was interrupted however when the whole venue suddenly erupted in a cacophony of ‘thump-hop’ music when Medicine for the People joined in. Comprised of two acoustic guitars, an acoustic bass and Hope Medford rocking out on percussion and providing soaring vocal harmonies; the song was transformed from a heartfelt track into an intense foot-tapping piece of music.
This is a band that throws a curveball at you and changes either the style or rhythm of the song just when you assume you know what the rest of the track entails. On CD, their music rests in a similar vein as other folk and reggae artists. But as Nahko himself stated, it differs greatly when performed on stage. I couldn’t agree more. The level of sweat, gusto and honest rock that these guys deliver on stage is one not to be missed and is easily one of the more engaging bands that I’ve had the pleasure of watching perform this year.
Donav0n Frankenreiter’s acoustic guitar set enabled people to rest and unwind before Xavier Rudd took to the stage. Playing his relaxed Jack Johnsonesque selection of original tracks; the crowd was swooned with his soulful voice, clean picked guitar riffs and distinctive melodies. What you see with Donavon is what you get. No bells and whistles, it’s simple, down to earth, folk inspired music. There are no lyrics that need decoding, no double meanings or double entendres. The way that Donavon captures your attention is the way in which he uses his voice to establish the melody within a song. Crowd favourite It don’t matter is a prime example of this. On this night Donavon used this song to establish a call and response with the crowd. Him singing, “If it don’t matter to you” and then letting the crowd respond with “It don’t matter to me.” After doing this for a certain period of time, he asked a young fan from the crowd to get up on stage and sing the song with him. While she was no upcoming Beyoncé, the crowd responded positively and got a massive kick out of this. It’s little but meaningful gestures like this that make Donavon a joy to watch perform.
Xavier is a man of many talents. Not only is he a multi instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, father, husband and all around good bloke. But the man knows how to make an entrance as well.
Xavier Rudd began his set shrouded in darkness. Blowing into a didgeridoo the lights were slowly brought up to reveal the instruments in front of him. 3 didgeridoos, a guitar on his lap, a bass drum, a stomp box, a banjo, harmonicas, bells and bass guitars were creatively strewn all around the musician. How one man can perform so seamlessly on such an array of instruments and sing flawlessly for almost 2 hours is anyone’s guess.
Performing a vast selection of tracks from a majority of his nine albums, there are too many songs that I could go into detail here. So I’ll just do a highlight reel.
Spirit Bird, a subdued track that heavily relies on Xavier’s voice was sung almost perfectly bar one or two pitch errors. The high range that this song lies in means that one can forgive such an error. Many singers would strain their voices singing in such a high range for the time period that Xavier managed to do in this song.
Let Me Be which sees Xavier playing both the guitar and harmonica was a crowd pleaser with it’s catchy guitar hook and up-tempo drum beat. This is similar to Bow Down, which started out slow but gradually picks up in tempo throughout the track. Eventually building up to a grunge infused outro that sees Xavier rocking out on a slide guitar while wailing into the microphone.
The crowd lapped up Xavier’s most renowned song Follow The Sun. There were even times were the crowd was almost overpowering Xavier’s voice but the look of joy on the mans face determined that this was not at all an issue for the singer.
One of the many great things that Xavier does is fuse musical styles together using the array of instruments at his disposal. He does this best in the track Lioness Eye, which sees him going nuts on a didgeridoo, while also rocking the hell out of a drum set at the same time. Talk about using both sides of the brain at one time. The result of these two instruments playing together creates a genre that I can only describe as ‘techno indigenous dance music’. Combined with some trippy, sampled kookaburra calls all combined to make a unique musical experience indeed. There was a time where I actually forgot I was at a concert and was instead at a club listening to a remix of Xavier Rudd. But it was all live and played by one man. This just further proves what an amazing, no, phenomenal musician the man really is.
Xavier Rudd, Donavon Frankenreiter, as well as Nahko and Medicine For The People are three acts whose music consist of messages of human equality; care for the planet, and feel good vibes. While this may sound a bit ‘preachy’ or lame to some, I believe these messages have a long-standing and resilient place in today’s music scene. The fact that these three musicians who focus on one primary message are able to cover such a diverse selection of musical genres was an unexpected joy to witness. This is music that tries to remove itself away from the tired conventions of partying, teen romance and lust that are painfully predominant within contemporary music. If we didn’t have music and musicians like this, where would freethinking individuals not interested in getting “wasted” every weekend go to get a unique melodic fix? These are three artists that you should make a conscious effort to watch sometime in your life.