Gig Review by Sara Reynolds

Rodriguez

Rodriguez tonight is supported by two acts Chloe Charles who gives a confident and sassy performance with strong harmonious vocals, and Dennis Coffey a well seasoned guitarist. In every area of the world that Rodriguez performs he has a different backing band, and for his British stint Coffey’s backing then supports Rodriguez on stage with drums, bass and guitar. Coffey leads in nicely and fills the auditorium with a set of real crowd pleasers from the likes of Stevie Wonder and co.

Once upon a time… back in the early 70’s there was an artist called Sixto Rodriguez. In the daytimes he spent his hours in the company of the ‘everyman’ on the street. At night he played the clubs and bars of downtown Detroit. He showed an enormous amount of potential and talent in those early days, and a couple of albums were put down on vinyl.

A clever wordsmith, along the lines of Bob Dylan, his tunes were filled with the tensions of politic – both worldy and personal. By comparison though where Dylan would cut through our consciousness like the coldest of knives, Rodriguez in his own quiet and poetic manner just told us how it was – with the warmest of delivery.

But the man disappeared, he didn’t sell records back then… he just… disappeared.

Tonight at Symphony Hall there’s a kind of excitement and faux nostalgia in the room that I find curious. Rodriguez is heckled many times with calls of “we’ve been searching for you Sugar Man!”. Ok. So we could put this down to pure irony, but there’s more to it than that. I sense a collective consciousness willing this man’s missing history into existence.

Rodriguez’s stage persona is one of pure relaxation – indeed, as though he has been up there his whole life. A black top hat and shades casting an air of mystery over a fascinating well-worn face. He plays tunes from the Sugar Man album (a compilation taken from the documentary film) my favourite “Crucify your mind” is wonderful, and followed by crowd favourites “Street Boy’ and “Sugar man”. These are interspersed with Rodriquez’s unique take on some of his favourite covers including Elvis’s “Blue Suede Shoes” and Nina Simone’s “Love Me Or Leave Me”.

He tells us “I just want to be treated like an ordinary legend”. The banter with the crowd is humble, and although he gives as good as he gets, he is eternally full of gentleness and good wit.

I think though what is most fascinating about Rodriguez, is not who he aspired to be back then many decades ago, or indeed who he has now become, (a man finally living his dream? A’ then’ dream…or a ‘now’ dream?) But, who this human being became in spite of it all. He lived a humble life for over 40 years working as a labourer, marrying, bringing up children – and ensuring that they would have a brighter future than his. And it would seem from the Oscar winning documentary ”Searching for Sugar man’ that he was in those interim years, content.

Since watching the film I’ve seen no sign of any ‘poor me’ tears from Rodriguez – not for back then and how it all panned out for him. For most of us mere mortals the closest we get to fulfilment of personal dreams is through our television sets. We watch the latest talent show fodder get taken down, one by one, every Saturday night. It’s heartbreaking…but we still watch. The ones who were never quite talented enough, unique enough, or lucky enough? Fame’s strange alchemy eludes most of us ‘ordinary folk’. Maybe these young hopefuls should take a leaf from Rodriguez’s book when he sings “and you claim you’ve got something going, something you call unique, but how much of you is repetition, as the tears roll down your cheeks?” *Crucify your mind.

As for Rodriguez, his stage persona is as unstarry as your every likely to come across. He’s a man totally at ease on stage. I feel lucky to have heard and seen him play, his voice is as fresh as it sounded 50 years ago on record, and his guitar playing is virtuoso. In short, the whole set is effortless.

But afterwards I reflect, what of our own ambitions? Maybe we never made it…or perhaps we’re making it big? But wherever we stand as individuals in this world, what we can learn best from Rodriguez is how to take it all in our stride, In my mind Rodriquez has transcended merely coming into being, but, through his fulfilment of young ambition in old age, he represents to us every man that ever dreamed.

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