Rodriguez, Roundhouse (London, UK 11/16/12)
Earlier this year I watched the film documentary SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN. It told the story of how two South African fans tracked down Detroit based singer/songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, a cult hero in their country, decades after he had released a couple of albums which had sank without trace, everywhere that is, apart from South Africa. The documentary tells one of the most heart-warming stories in the music business. As well as showing what happened to Rodriguez during the ‘lost decades’ it brought his music to a new audience, many of who, like me, were keen to experience seeing him live, if the opportunity ever arose. That opportunity did indeed present itself when I learned that he would be playing in London, in November. Such was the clamour for tickets that not only did he sell out four London shows but other venues up and down the country too!
And so to London’s Roundhouse on a foggy Friday evening for this much-anticipated appearance. Dressed from top to toe in black, Rodriguez was led on stage by an assistant (he’s 70 years old now and suffers from poor eyesight) and joined by his backing band, which comprised four members of tonight’s opening act, Phantom Limb.
Opening with You’d Like to Admit It from a 1967 promo single, he followed with Crucify Your Mind one of the most popular songs from the film, which garnered raucous applause. After playing I Wonder someone shouted out ‘I love you!’ to which he replied ‘I know it’s the drink, but I love you too!’ That perhaps gives you an inkling of his unfailing modesty and the fact that he’s (understandably) still coming to terms with his new found fame.
The Roundhouse’s circular auditorium is predominately standing with seats available upstairs in a wrap around balcony. I had a seat and consequently a great view of the stage. Standing venues, especially those with a bar, are notorious for chatter and this one, sadly, was no exception. Amid songs, the babble from the floor was very distracting especially as between virtually every song there were uncomfortable moments as Rodriguez and guitarist Stew Jackson appeared to discuss what to play next. It felt disordered; it seemed as if they were making up a set list as they went along and for me it ruined the flow of the concert.
There’s no doubt that Rodriguez still has a fine voice; his self-penned songs with anti-establishment lyrics, pull no punches and it was wonderful to hear for example, Sugarman and Inner City Blues both of which feature in the film. It was a line in Inner City Blues ‘ I met a girl from Dearborn’ that provided the clue to his whereabouts and ultimately led to his re-discovery by his South African fans.
Less successful tonight were the ‘easy listening’ cover versions of Cole Porter’s Just One of Those Things, Peggy Lee’s hit Fever and Frank Sinatra’s hit Learnin’ the Blues which he played solo as he concluded the show.
If I was being kind I’d say the evening had a certain, unrehearsed charm about it but to my mind, the backing band was out of it’s depth, the venue wasn’t ideal for Rodriguez and I’d much prefer to see him solo in a smaller, more intimate space where the audience didn’t prattle on so much.
Perhaps my expectations were too high? I loved the film but was disappointed by the live concert. Jela Webb