A DAY ON THE GREEN
Featuring RODRIGUEZ + XAVIER RUDD + RUSSELL MORRIS + ARCHIE ROACH + MARK WILKINSON
Saturday, November 19
Dark grey clouds appear on the horizon, eerily arriving as they so often do when a large group of people congregate for an outdoor concert. But the sold-out crowd at the season’s second A Day on the Green show is only forced to endure two minutes of lackluster spit, which disappears as quickly as it arrives.
As the crowd rolls in, Mark Wilkinson, given the unenviable task of filling the opening slot, proves a sweet folk entrée, performing a selection of original tunes and a stirring cover of the difficult-to-fuck-up ‘Fast Car’.
Performers don’t come much more sincere than Archie Roach, whose understated yet regal presence brings a touch of class to proceedings. Roach’s storied life, from his childhood as a member of The Stolen Generation to subsequent years on the streets, imbues every song with an undeniably authentic quality.
Leaning heavily on new record, Let Love Rule, Roach intersperses anecdotes and messages of peace throughout the set. He tells us of his presence in Nice during this year’s tragic terrorist attack and spoke of his reverence for the wide-eyed innocence of youth. More importantly, he asserts that it’s not too late to save the world. Let’s hope he’s right.
Russell Morris and his band bring a healthy dash of blues rock to Bimbadgen’s picturesque vine-riddled locale. The Aussie legend has hit a purple patch of creativity, releasing a trilogy of acclaimed blues ‘n’ roots records since 2012.
Morris delivers a varied set, placing this more recent blues-orientated material, like ‘Sharkmouth’ and ‘Black Dog Blues’, alongside a suitably space-age, jammy version of his monster hit ‘The Real Thing’ and his cover of Deep Purple’s ‘Hush’.
Xavier Rudd is a strange phenomenon, a man of predominantly Dutch and Irish heritage who sounds as if he’s grown up in the back streets of Jamaica. His songs are dub-folk reveries on unity and peace, extolling the need to protect our planet and to love each other. These sentiments seem to resonate with the 8000-strong crowd, who leap and cheer every time Rudd raises his guitar to the heavens and his bare feet pace majestically across the stage.
Accompanied by a drummer and keyboardist, Rudd wastes no time in dropping his 2004 breakthrough single ‘Let Me Be’ early in the set. Other hits, ‘Follow the Sun’ and ‘Come Let Go’, receive rapturous responses, suggesting as many people are here for Rudd as they are our legendary headliner. He switches between acoustic and lap steel guitars and douses the audience with an accomplished didgeridoo solo. Rudd has seemingly turned into a stadium folk star.
Due to his almost complete blindness as a result of glaucoma, Sixto Rodriguez is led to the microphone, where he graciously sits at a stool. The reverence in the crowd is palpable. The edge of the table next to him is edged in bright neon yellow tape. There sits a cup of tea. Waves of deafening screams continue to roll forward.
Anyone that knows the Rodriguez story, as depicted in the Academy Award-winning doco Searching for Sugar Man, is aware of how alien this reception is to the humble 74-year-old man on the stage. He was deceived out of royalties for his only two albums – 1970’s Cold Fact and 1971’s Coming From Reality – and returned to working on Detroit construction sites while his audience, attracted to both the music and the mystery of the man, grew exponentially in South Africa and Australia. Rodriguez had sold as many records as Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley in these places – and he was seemingly the last to find out.
But Rodriguez has accepted his fame with humility and wry humour, evidenced when he says quietly into the microphone, “Time to put on my image.” He slips on a dark pair of shades and his trademark black fedora and is instantly transformed into the shaman of the streets. The man once thought dead. The enigma.
Rodriguez opens with a slow, intimate version of the Elton John tune ‘Your Song’ and when his distinctive, earthy voice travels over the large PA, it’s hard not to feel goosebumps. This is the first of many covers in the set, from Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Don’t You Want Somebody to Love’ to ‘Light My Fire’ by The Doors and The Rolling Stones’ ‘I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)’. It’s understandable, given that he only has two records to draw on, and though his cover choices are far from obscure, his royal stamp is similar to Johnny Cash’s final range of reinterpretations. He imbues them with magic.
Both Rodriguez and his band take a little while to warm up. There’s no connection between them, as if they’re backing him for the first time, and they stand away, perhaps to allow the main man to be the focus of attention. But it does create something of a disconnect.
‘Only Good For Conversation’ is second in the set and feels clunky at first, but does settle into its groove. From here the show tightens and you sense both band and Sixto loosen up. The crowd helps. Their loud acclamations clearly buoy the flattered legend.
His two major hits, ‘I Wonder’ and ‘Sugar Man’, are not saved for the encore, instead dropping before the mid-point of the show. But that far from diminishes the quality of the remaining setlist. It spans numerous gems from his two accomplished records, like ‘Rich Folks Hoax’ and ‘Crucify Your Mind’. Though blind, his rhythmic guitar style is assured and emotive, though the band often drowns his instrument when they kick in.
Rodriguez departs the stage after an hour, closing with ‘Forget It’. For a moment it almost seems like he won’t return. It’s hard to be angry if he doesn’t – he’s clearly frail and poured his heart into every song.
But the poetic lyricist is led on for one more song, momentarily missing his microphone when he reaches for it. But soon he’s leaning in and that voice emerges from beneath the hat one final time. In that dark shadow cast over his face, if you look hard enough, you can just see a line of glowing white teeth in the curve of a smile.
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