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Live From Joshua Tree (Warner)

It opens on a landscape of red dirt and rocks, barren and beautiful, starkly absent of human touches – a landscape very familiar to Australians, even if you’ve never been near central Australia, or western parts of Queensland and NSW for that matter.

This is real outback, genuinely far from civilisation and the kind of place that works as a reminder that we are but dots on the earth no matter what our technology affords us. Get caught out here at the wrong time of the year for too long and it’s too late. And when you’re gone your mark is quickly covered, or blown away.

It’s not Australia of course, but the Joshua Tree national park in California. And it isn’t free of humans or technology, for standing on individual platforms atop one of the rocky surfaces in the fading light of dusk are the Australians Jon George, Tyrone Lindqvist and James Hunt.

If you’re going to set yourself up for a visually arresting performance you’d be hard-pressed to find better and Rufus Du Sol – for those late to the class, that’s the artists formerly known as Rufus but, stymied by that other outfit called Rufus who once backed Chaka Khan, now have this sunny add-on – have done well.

Even before the small stands/poles of lights emerge as dusk turns into night, aided by the lights on, and playing off, the equipment the trio are playing, the scenery can take your breath away. And when the dark settles in, the contrast of this relatively tiny source of life with what seems endless darkness is positively sci-fi cinema.

Put it this way, for three Sydney blokes, that’s not just a step up or two from squeezing in to a club in Liverpool Street on a Tuesday night, it’s a bit of an international coup.

What’s intriguing, as in perplexing as much as fascinating, is that this is a live performance without an audience. They’re playing live, sure, but to cameras not to dancing bodies. The result has something of the Pink Floyd at Pompeii about it (younger readers should ask their grandparents; older readers should try to cut through the fug of 45-year-old hash smoke to remember) and that has definite positives and negatives.

Among the positives are none of those boring shots of someone going off in the room or that dedicated fan in the front row mouthing all the words; clarity of vision from more than 360 degrees, with aerial and ground level angles unencumbered; the focus on a location which is incredibly rare, outside a Qantas commercial maybe; and, to be fair, no interference with an audience’s appreciation of the show by the fat arses of a camera crew taking up prime position.

The negatives are in some ways the flipside of the positives. It’s unquantifiable but I would argue noticeable the difference between a band playing with energy and commitment in a space filled with a responsive audience, and one playing with just as much energy and commitment to no one.

Now it’s true that Rufus Du Sol aren’t the sort to fling themselves into the mosh pit, or prance up a runway to exhort those in the high seats to rattle their cups of ice, but if you’ve ever seen them live they do much more than stand behind a rack of keyboards or stand stiffly with microphone in hand.

However, as attractive as this show is, there is unmistakeably a sense of distancing, a feeling of watching them with appraisal rather than instinctive reaction, a degree of sterility in other words. And in all the Rufus and Rufus Du Sol shows I’ve seen, sterility is one word that’s never come up before.

But then I’ve never seen them presented in such a stunning, tell-your-kids-about-that-one-day way either. And it sounds good to boot, with the set list weighted slightly more towards atmosphere than sweat to emphasise the widescreen nature of Rufus Du Sol.

So overall, a win? A qualified win at least? I reckon so.


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