Sugar Man proves not so sweet

SIMON SWEETMAN
Last updated 13:10 18/03/2013
Rodriguez
MAGIC MISSING: Sixto Rodriguez - scratch guitar and weak voice.

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REVIEW: Rodriguez

TSB Bank Arena, Saturday, March 16

Sixto Rodriguez recorded two albums and was promptly forgotten until last year's Oscar-winning documentary Searching For Sugar Man told a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction version of some of the events leading to a comeback.

He was huge in South Africa but the film forgets that he'd already toured Australia and had some following in New Zealand. Nevermind, his 1970 debut, Cold Fact, really is a gem and it's nice to think the documentary has introduced thousands of people to that crucial music.

Now Rodriguez - who returned to labouring and disappeared from the music scene for more than 40 years - is back touring. The film is his real comeback. And it's a standing ovation to greet him in Wellington before he's even played a note. When he does play a note his pick-up band of local musicians do their best to work with it but Rodriguez's scratchy guitar and weak voice can't really carry much more than a hint of the magic.

Stripped of the psychedelic swirls that beguiled, enhanced and entranced, what we have now is, crudely put, a septuagenarian performing a slow, strange, abruptly ending version of bad Bob Dylan; the songs lacking in anything resembling dynamics despite the best efforts of talented Kiwi musicians who were often close to working blind.

The film is lovely but it's not quite the truth and the big problem with the giant success of the documentary is that it has demystified the music - now an interesting folk-pop/soul hybrid that was never quite of its time, or any, is served up as a singalong beer-swill soundtrack.

The audience screaming out requests and calling Rodriguez a legend; it's lovely he's getting delayed recognition but like the film that has made him a star it's not actually quite true. And the encore of Blue Suede Shoes was best suited for the RSA circuit, which is where you would have seen Rodriguez had Searching For Sugar Man not been made.

Rodriguez told bad jokes and offered cereal box philosophy between songs but he did play everything that could be expected including an embarrassing version of the signature Sugar Man. His voice does retain enough character to offer the warmth and sincerity but it's weak and he's frail. But for fans new and old it was enough just to see him.

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- The Dominion Post

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