I had just sat down to write my review for Rodriguez when my inbox “booped”.
The message read…
“Just don’t step too hard on him. He has taken a lot of hits and does not need to be totally shot down.”
My friend and I had completely different experiences at the show and I paused to reflect upon his advice.
For him it was full of “Touching authenticity” yet for me it was an off-key disaster .
The message went on to say…
“He was frail and trying to keep singing for the love of the music and for the money that he could finally make to leave to the family that he has supported and who is now supporting him.”
I did not disagree with this sentiment. There was something charming about the idea of an artist, who had spent so many decades in obscurity, FINALLY getting recognition and being able to leave a legacy for his family and loved ones.
His message finished…
“Rodriguez’s story is like music’s Cinderella and some of the people that came to see him recognized this and applauded him and his story.”
With this I realized that the show was more than just an assembly of musicians and songs. The show was a celebration of a legend. In this era of “drive-by character-assassination” it would be too easy to base a review on the flaws of an elderly man trying to be a Rock Star. Upon reflection, that would be missing the point. So I chose to reset my thought process and focus on the positive elements of the show and unbelievable story of the artist known as “Sugar Man”.
The humid MTelus theatre was filled with body odour and beer as the lights dimmed to introduce Ontario folk singer Cat Clyde. I stood close to the left edge of the stage surrounded by a flock of drunken frat-boys who were loudly telling bad jokes through her opening song (and every song after). Cat appeared out of place in her brown shirt and jeans shrugging up to the microphone. She stood in the 2′ X 2′ white square drawn in electric tape on the stage floor for the duration of her set, never straying once. However, her voice soared.
With only an acoustic guitar to back her, Cat Clyde emptied her vocal cords onto the packed theatre with a huge dose of positivity and joy.
What a unique and strangely beautiful timbre she projected for us. Tracey Thorn meets Joan Baez. The sound of her voice was able to tickle that little happy place in my chest that much of todayʼs music doesn’t.
I was truly disappointed with many parts of the crowd that seemed more interested in their cell phones and having loud conversations about other things. Their loss, I suppose. It was her first time playing for a Montreal crowd. We can be jerks here. Folk music is, at times, soft and when you talk over it it gets ruined.
If I could give her one small piece of advice; engage the crowd a bit more. She didn’t really talk between songs or get a feel for the audience. I think if she did, people would have paid more attention.
Cat Clyde had opened for Rodriguez for his past few shows and I hope she was better received elsewhere, because she truly has a beautiful, unique voice that deserves to be heard.
Her first LP was released this spring and it is definitely worth a listen.
SPOILER ALERT: They found Sugar Man.
A table was put slightly to the side of centre stage and an elaborate selection of hats were placed across it. (Remember the hats, the hats are important)
From the moment Rodriguez was introduced, a spell was cast across the audience. A real-life-honest-to-God MYTH stood before us.
The years had clearly taken their toll upon his body but his spirit was bursting with light as the cheers from the crowd brought a smile to his face.
Dressed in black with a toque of the same colour, he leaned back on his stool like the coolest cat you have ever seen. He strummed his guitar gently and broke into song. What his aged voice lacked in lustre he more than made up for in emotion and soul.
Rodriguez’s first musical offering was met with thunderous applause. He seemed genuinely taken aback by the appreciation from the crowd. He looked across the crowd and replied: “I know itʼs the drinks… But I love you back”
Ripping off his toque, he displayed a full head of long hair. Shuffling through the table of hats to his side (the hats are important) he selected a tight white straw hat with a red white and blue bandana. Placing it over his head and adjusting his sun glasses, Rodriguez began to play the opening chords of “Your Song”
The rest of the band fell into the back ground as Rodriguez played a stripped down version of the Elton John classic solo.
“I don’t have much money but boy if I did I’d buy a big house where we both could live..” sang Rodriguez, gently.
The rendition was heartfelt and anyone familiar with Rodriguez’s story and struggles would see the beauty and honesty in these lines.
• Writer’s Note •
If you have yet to see the 2012 Documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” … It is simply magical.
It is the story of two South Africans trying to find out what happened to one of their musical heroes. He had not been heard from in many years and was rumoured dead. When he is discovered to be alive and living in Detroit the story takes a turn down a truly incredible path. Most people, myself included, had never heard of Rodriguez before the documentary was released. Most attendees at the concert were there because of that movie.
• Writer’s Note •
Rodriguez played a few more dreamy & relaxed compositions before switching to the third hat. The third was a black suede hat with silver details. Then switching into his white sunglasses he broke into “You’d Like To Admit It”. Each costume change was met with great amusement by the crowd as Rodriguez played Rock Star.
“I’m in the mood to reveal how I feel
You weren’t that sharp, but you had some appeal…” he sang with a full toothed grin
“Now there’s a hint of regret in your eyes
But you won’t tell me, and your smile’s your disguise” he continued.
Rodriguez has very playful Dylanesque lyrics in his songs that dance around in your head after you hear them. Covers of “La Vie en Rose” and “Light My Fire” by the Doors were performed.
Nearing the end of the show a lone voice screamed out “YOU ARE A LEGEND” and the crowd applauded for a minute straight in an electric shower of appreciation. Rodriguez was humble and appreciative for all of the love.
Legend is the best way to describe this man, and I am privileged to have seen a part of that story in person.
Review – Myles Beeby
Photos – Chelsea Gray