Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Wed Oct 29
Jen Cloher said, “It’s a real honour opening for Rodriguez,” and she’s right, it is, but this home-grown songwriter nailed it. Combining performance authority – no cute little-girl voicing here – and strongly hook-laced lyrics, mainly self-penned, Ms Cloher provided the perfect harmonising element for the headline act to come. Her commentaries charmed without coyness, were friendly without being obsequious, and wove a set of good songs into a mature, engaging whole that, once encountered, will surely bring audiences back. Standout number (with introduction) was Origami Kamikazi.
The man himself: didn’t lift a finger, simply arrived onstage, and the room erupted. The affection is a phenomenon in its own right, encapsulating better than words the (literal) legend this remarkably self-effacing man has become in his own lifetime. The humility is no rock‘n’roll put-on. The legend is no marketing ploy. The songs strike present-day resonance that somehow surpasses their impact in the early years.
For most present, the Rodriguez life-arc began with the seminal 1970s album Cold Fact, to which subsequent releases referred in title and themes, and from which much of this evening’s celebration was drawn. The songs are packed with acute observations of life at street level, that surpass the work of better-known contemporaries in their astonishing capacity to be cynical without bitterness, talk of love without sentimentality or disrespect, and express their truth in major keys – and there it is: an overall feeling of happiness that pervades all Rodriguez’s music. It may have jarred then, even seemed trivial amidst all the angsting, but it refreshes now. And for a vintage life-worn audience it could go a long way to explaining the enduringness and endearingness of this still cheeky boy in old man’s guise. “I know it’s the drinks… but I love you back.”
In Australia, unlike in hometown USA, Rodriguez made a deep musical mark and maintained a loyal following during the quieter years. But it was in South Africa his legend was born, the story compellingly told in the feature documentary Searching For Sugar Man (2012). All unknown to him, his music became the soundtrack to a revolution, while rumours of his death became rife. The British and Hollywood Academy-Award-winning “whatever-became-of” movie brought the man and his music into sharp contemporary focus, reigniting his international music career well beyond where it left off.
So the arc delivers the quiet man once again to Adelaide. His expanded audience re-loved signature songs including Sugar Man, I Wonder, Establishment Blues, Cold Fact, Rich Folks Hoax, Forget It, Can’t Get Away, artlessly responsive, encouraging, singing along, basking in flashback afterglow.
Was it a flawless performance? Of the songs, very close to it. From the first phrase, his liquid velvet voice imparted more than the old magic to vintage songs made new, while those beautiful fluid fingers stroked flamenco-tinged rhythms from seductive nylon-stringed guitar. Nothing about the music had changed. The classic three-piece band was rock-solid, delivering faithful renditions of riffs way too familiar to risk messing with, and the sound engineering impressed with every note and lyric (for both acts) clearly audible.
Did he deliver? Hey, he could have talked more, like when he performed at The Gov the last time he was in town. Was it the difference in venue (AEC remains cavernous even in “intimate” mode), or is he just tired now (“Take it easy on me. I’m a solid 72, you know!”)? And sure, padding with cheesy covers was unnecessary, deflected the energy. Bottom line: we just wanted the man. Maybe we got him anyway, in the songs, and in the arc. It’s kind of clean that way, and maybe a little bit wise as well. So glad to have been there, Sugar Man. Thanks for your time – and no, we won’t Forget It.
by Kate Battersby