On a wet night in late November 2012, I had the unique pleasure of taking in a concert by Australian artist Xavier Rudd. The venue was the Phoenix Concert Hall and we had ducked in from the cold and into the odd warmth of this Toronto institution with few expectations. Concert tickets had been purchased by a friend and the artist was entirely unknown to me; I was in attendance by some strange sense of social obligation alone. A vague second-hand description explained a one-man show from the Southern Hemisphere who worked with a didgeridoo. At the time, my only thought was that the experience would be somewhat memorable if only for the presence of the didgeridoo, never having heard this exotic Australian instrument played live. Well, the experience was certainly memorable in various aspects, not least of which was this particular noise maker.
After meeting the friend with the tickets near the entrance and cognizant only of some low frequency vibration having its source somewhere in the bowels of this theatre, we were led through what seemed like a labyrinth of low ceilings and graffiti, which opened into the cavernous inner cathedral of the concert hall. Throngs of people gyrated with oceanic tempo to the layered notes emanating from the stage. It was as if some happy cultists were performing some oft-rehearsed ritual without self-regard. The experience was stunning.
Stunned as I was to behold this fusion of visual spectacle and auditory complement, I was nearly bowled over by the rich atmosphere of cannabis smoke that seemed to waft rhythmically from the stage in concert with both artist and audience. This was a conspiracy of sensory assault that I could appreciate on some untapped primal level previously unrevealed to me in any other concert environment. All of this became apparent within the first few moments of entrance. Fortuitously, alcoholic beverages were within ready reach without having to battle through the teeming fans. The night had begun.
The richness of sound and spectacle continued for what seemed like several hours as temporal considerations had been all but lost in the moment. There was a blissful glaze over the audience and I can only say that I would have been happy if it continued all night. I have read that Rudd tends to infuse his music with socially conscious themes, raising awareness about environmental and Aboriginal issues. Noble and important as those are, lyrics were lost in the acoustic chasm that is the Phoenix. This did not diminish the enormity of the experience that Rudd provided and I would not hesitate to attend any future venue, confident he would deliver a show – an event – like no other.
May the didgeridoos feature prominently.