The room was almost in complete darkness expect for a couple of spotlights on Sixto Rodriguez. There was nothing to see other than him, nothing to hear beyond him. “Just a song we shared…” he began singing, softly, almost in a whisper. His voice, the only sound hovering over that of the guitar as it played the chords to “I Think of You.”
It seemed like everyone in the audience was holding their breath, fixated, amused. Most of them were new fans, and a few of them had been listening to his music for a long time, for the music that Rodriguez played last Saturday night at the Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco was written and recorded in the late 60s. Accompanied by a four piece band of Melotron, guitar, drums and bass, he played songs from Cold Fact (1970) and Coming From Reality (1971).
“I’m from South Africa and I’ve been listening to your music for 30 years” shouted someone from the audience, to which Rodriguez answered “young blood, my heart is with you.”
The show was part of the Searching for Sugar Man Tour, which supports the documentary of the same name released earlier this year. In the movie, director Malik Bendjelloul tells the story of the Detroit musician, who in the early 70s had left his musical endeavors by the side as his records failed to gain attention. For almost 30 years, he kept a low profile and was unaware of any record sales or admirers. That was until in 1998 he received a phone call from a South African record-store owner who informed him of his Elvis-like stardom in that country. His records had spread like wildfire there, selling thousands and thousands of copies throughout the years
Acknowledging his new found followers, Rodriguez toured South African that same year. Most of the people in the audience had lived to his music but had had no clue about his whereabouts until then. Footage from the tour’s first concert, shown in the documentary, depicts a glowing audience that claps and howls for minutes after hearing the introduction bass line for “I Wonder” . Their gratefulness was overwhelming, even before Rodriguez had played or sang one note.
Back at Bimbo’s, the bass line for “I Wonder” ignited cheer and applause from the audience as it did in the movie. The audience also showed overt praise during “Sugar Man” and spent the length of the set admiring the man onstage.
Cowboy boots, signature hat and long silky hair presented the silhouette made familiar by the movie. At 70, Rodriguez beams of honest joy while he faces the audience. His eyesight evidently deteriorating as he needed to be escorted on and off the stage. His voice and charisma, however, paying no attention to the passage of time, filled the main room of one of San Francisco’s oldest night clubs. Song after song, the band played tasteful representations of the recordings while Rodriguez showed that regardless of where he stands in his career he can perform beautiful music and blow an audience away.
With over 30 tour dates scheduled in North America and the United Kingdom, one wonders if Rodriguez could grow indifferent to being onstage. But upon reaching the end of the set it seemed as if he could not contain his emotions, taking off his hat in reverence towards the audience and coming back onstage to perform “Blue Suede Shoes” as an encore.
On the stage, he constantly expressed his thankfulness and seemed amused, even surprised by the applause. His persona stood true to that portrayed on the screen. In it he had come across as a humble and principled man who described his story as a ‘rags to rags story’ and who does not waver to the lures of fame.
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