Friday, 14 March 2014


Live Review

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Sixto Rodriguez is, to say the least, an enigma. You either get him or you don't but for a man who has only ever released two albums in the 1970s Cold Fact and Coming From Reality and then essentially disappeared off the radar for best part of 30 years he has a cult following which is nothing short of incredible.

Sixto Rodriguez
The potted history of his career, and there are far more comprehensive versions about, begins in Detroit, Michigan where he released his albums and was working on a third when his record company folded.
This essentially, apart from a couple of Australian tours, was the end of his musical career.
However, unknown to him while he was raising a family, working mainly in construction, getting involved in local politics and fighting for workers' rights he became a massive star in South Africa, "even better known than Elvis" where his songs resonated with many of the young people suffering the oppression of apartheid. He was also gathering a big following in Oz as his tours had more of an impact than he had ever imagined.
Add to that rumours of his demise which were greatly exaggerated and you have the essence of a Hollywood film which turned out to be Searching For Sugar Man.
Through a website called The Great Rodiguez Hunt it was found he was still alive and still in Detroit and through connecting with his daughter Eva two South Africans brought him back onto the world's stage. And that's how at the age of 72, looking a fragile figure he was helped on to the Symphony Hall podium in Birmingham, But once he started strumming his guitar and facing up to the microphone he showed remarkable spirit.
The packed hall audience were hollering and whooping and shouting their feelings, some more than others, throughout the concert but strangely enough it wasn't until about the third song that he actually addressed his fans. However, the guy has reached such cult status that he could have walked up to the mic and burped all night and I am sure the partisan crowd would have lapped it up, he is at that level of cult hero where he can essentially do no wrong.
His album Cold Fact
He is remarkable for a septuagenarian as he stands there in his suit and top hat giving the crowd what they have come for, his own songs such as Climb Up On My Music, Crucify Your Mind, the track he opened with and I wonder and every one one greeted with rapturous applause.
His stage act is not particularly elaborate he spends most of his time in between songs either being handed drinks or talking tuning with the lead guitarist in something akin to a private huddle.
There were several cover versions, the best of which was Billie Holiday's Just One of Those Things. There was a ropey version of Little Richard's Lucille, a just as questionable version of Jailhouse Rock, a pretty lacklustre version of Fever and a passable version of Unchained Melody.
The great Billie Holiday
Sugar Man is most definitely at his best singing his own style of hard-hitting ballads which at times are hard to distinguish from a lot of stuff Dylan has done both in terms of composition and quality.
Songs such as I Wonder, the eponymous Sugar Man, Street Boy and Rich Folks Hoax still have a relevance today.
But you have to hand it to him for a guy in his eighth decade, was off the scene - apart from a couple of concerts - working and raising a family he can still bang out a mean tune.
If you want him summed up then in his own words: "All I want is to be treated like an ordinary legend."