Sunday, October 26, 2014
Rodriguez Touring Down Under for Possibly the Last Time - Review of Sydney Opera House Concert Hall performance 23 October 2014
Rodriguez enjoyed considerable success as an artist in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It is interesting how there was such little interest in his work in his home country of the USA. Maybe things would have been different if his time was in the internet era rather than in the 1970’s when radio airplay and record/cassette tape distribution was 100% at the mercy of record company executives.
After limited success in 1970’s, he returned to a reclusive existence in Detroit until in the late 1990’s, when a dedicated team of fans from South Africa began their search for the “Sugar Man”. This re-discovery is what has brought him back into our lives. He is now about 72 years of age and regularly tours the strongholds of his fan base.
When his latest concert series for Australia and New Zealand was announced, fans were quick onto their keyboards to acquire tickets. The general feeling was that this was likely to be his last tour down under. Initially two performances at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall were announced and when tickets went on sale, they were sold out in about 15 minutes. There was the usual anger associated with ticket scalping when tickets were almost immediately and readily available on Ebay Australia at approximately 4 times the original ticket selling price. An additional three performance dates at the somewhat less salubrious Enmore Theatre were subsequently announced.
Our small group of curious Rodriguez fans attended his performance on Thursday 23 October 2014. On a Thursday evening, the late start performance time of 9 pm meant that getting into town was less stressful than would normally be the case after a full day at work. It was advertised that there was to be no supporting act and that was fine with us.
To our surprise, there was a single song support act from a person unknown and never identified to us. She quietly entered the stage and sat on a stool with an acoustic guitar. She looked as though she might be related. We politely applauded after a short and slightly off key performance. Just as quietly, she left the stage and now, anticipation was at an all time evening high. Our bucket list check box next to Rodriguez’s name was about to be ticked with another lifetime achievement confirmed.
Slowly, a dark figure plodded through the shadows supported by two of crew members. The crowd erupted in cheers and screams as the legendary Rodriguez was lead out onto centre stage. It was obvious that his eyesight is at least as limited as has been reported. Although we were only in the fifth row from the front and in the middle of the row , we could barely see his face. He was wearing a large sun visor that protruded some 15-20cm beyond his hairline, which cast a Mordor like shadow over any facial features.
Considering that he used to play with his back to an audience, we will take his on-stage shyness as having come a long way.
He said nothing but gave a half wave of acknowledgement to the audience before launching into songs from a back catalogue of two shortish albums. A couple of filler cover songs helped take his total on stage performance time to around 75 to 80 minutes. He played what the audience wanted to hear, which was essentially every track on the album Cold Fact. This album had a place in every self respecting record collection of the 1970’s. He barely said a word to the audience although at one stage, he did mumble the names of his supporting band members. He did leave the stage after about 70 minutes of performing for the obligatory request that the audience beg for an encore. Just before the second song of the encore, he mumbled into the microphone ‘this is going to be our last song’ and these were possibly the first intelligible words that I could make out the whole evening. He and his crew then bowed to the appreciative audience.
I enjoyed this concert and had no regrets about being there that evening. The reality was that there was an elderly man on stage in the concert hall of the world famous Sydney Opera House who called himself Rodriguez playing a series of ‘okay’ covers of this demi-god of a man who called himself Rodriguez back in the 1970’s. His follow up album to “Cold Fact” was actually called “Coming From Reality” but I’m going to put all that aside and remember him with the same romanticism and adulation as the fans who have quite possibly have seen him perform for the very last time in Australia.