Live review: Rodriguez

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Live review: Rodriguez

by Poppy Reid

Rodriguez
Enmore Theatre, Sydney
March 19

Almost seven months ago, a documentary was released which told the incredible story of Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, an iconic ‘70s American enigma. And even now that he is found, even before a sold-out crowd at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre last night, Rodriguez remains a mystery.

There was a sense of ownership of the now 70-year-old musician from those new to the gate. Perhaps many weren’t aware that these Bluesfest sideshows (two more of which will see him return to The Enmore) weren’t just on the back of Searching For Sugar Man – Rodriguez sold out his last Australian jaunt with the festival in 2010. Regardless, his unlikely story created a mass support system in the crowd, the new knowledge affixing eyes as if to remember the entire set to call upon and replay later.

Supported and backed by The Break: the three founding members of Midnight Oil, Rob Hirst, Martin Rotsey and Jim Moginie as well as Brian Ritchie, of Violent Femmes, and Jack Howard from Hunters and Collectors, Rodriguez was in good hands – for the most part.

Helped onstage by two people, Rodriguez was jittery as he put on his black hat and sunglasses. Despite his smooth, articulate tone, off-the-bat charm and the fact he ran over the chords before each track, it wasn’t until four songs in, when he covered Cole Porter’s Just One Of Those Things that he seemed to loosen up; he played his guitar like a piano, softly caressing the strings.

Removing his jacket and showing off the fruits of his hard labour years, Rodriguez covered Lou Rawls’ Dead End Street before crowd sing-along, Sugar Man. Performing most tracks slower than on record did keep The Break on their toes, but it made for a fascinating and unpredictable set. Timing is irrelevant when you have before you a man who can lift you above your pedestrian routine with his performance poetry and peerless charm.

The expected scent of marijuana hovered above and Rodriguez said, “Sugar Man is a descriptive song, not a prescriptive song. Get your hugs, stay off drugs. Stay smart, don’t start.” He then went on to tell us two of the three U.S. states that have legalised marijuana. “Or have I said too much?”

Between tracks like I Wonder, Like Janis and …The Establishment Blues, Sydney felt it embarrassingly necessary to offer their two cents. Through marriage proposals (from either gender), declarations of love and a few offers to ’party’ with him, Rodriguez was ever the gentleman. “Thanks mate… I know it’s the drinks, but I love you back.”

Closing with Forget It, the track he was rumoured to have killed himself onstage after singing, the very much alive and very much relevant troubadour removed his hat to bow with his band. Returning for two covers, Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone and his homage to Hirst, Rotsey and Moginie: Midnight Oil’s Redneck Wonderland, Rodriguez was clearly in his element. Here was a man who had been jibbed by his record company and lived a modest life of hard labour in Michigan before he was dragged into the spotlight in his late 50s by two zealous South African fans. Now touring the world with his intelligent, warm voice and fascinating tale, it’s unfathomable to imagine Rodriguez - with the insight gained from his philosophy degree and his political conviction - anywhere else but under the hot stage lights.

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