Review and photos – Rodriguez at Venue, Vancouver, Oct 11 2012
– review by Julia Kalinina/photos by Christine Redmond
Rodriguez didn’t need to perform Thursday night. His presence onstage was enough to make most people in the crowd lose their marbles.
Rodriguez is a folk legend whom no one in North America knows about, though he is from Michigan. A recent documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, told his story and most people in the crowd were new fans who saw the film. However, for those old fans in the audience, last night was a once-in-a-lifetime, transcendental experience.
His story is so incredible it can only be true.
In 1970, two music producers discovered Rodriguez in the din of a smoky Detroit bar, strumming his guitar with his back to the audience. They produced two albums, both of which flopped, one after the other, until the record company dropped the singer from their label two weeks before Christmas in 1972. That was the end of that story.
However, another story began. No one knows how the first Rodriguez album got into South Africa. The most prominent theory is that an American girl visiting her boyfriend brought him a copy and the two circulated it among their friends. Copies were made and some of them ended up in record shops. More copies were made. Until stores started selling out of copies of the albums faster than they could produce them.
Rodriguez’ 1971 release Cold Fact went platinum multiple times in South Africa in the 1970s and ’80s. He was bigger than Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones. But no one knew who he was.
In the mid-1990s, a music journalist felt compelled to find out how Rodriguez. He searched the singers’ lyrics for clues on where he could be from. Years of work led to dead ends. He gave up. Until one day, listening to the song “Inner City Blues”, he heard a place name that he hadn’t noticed before: Dearborn, a Detroit suburb.
That clue was the missing key. One thing led to another, and shortly after, the journalist had Rodriguez’ old producer on the phone from Michigan. A hundred questions. And the last one – “How did Rodriguez die?” A pause on the line, and a voice that revealed that Rodriguez wasn’t dead…
And that is the beginning of the story of how Rodriguez came back to life.
Many sold out shows later – in South Africa, to stunned audiences – he performed in Vancouver to a packed Venue. People stood shoulder to shoulder from the stage to the merch table at the back of the room.
Rodriguez performed most of the songs from Cold Fact, and the intro of every song he played drew applause and whoops from the audience. Still as cool as ever at 70, with pitch-black long hair, dark sunglasses and imperturbable composure, he resuscitated anthems that had found the words millions of restless people had been seeking. It’s good to remember that Rodriguez went platinum in a country besieged by apartheid.
Rodriguez isn’t 30 years old anymore but his songs still capture that magical x-factor that everyone is looking for. But just seeing him onstage was enough.
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