Rodriguez at Fitzgerald Theater, 5/15/13
Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
This historic week in downtown Saint Paul continued at the Fitzgerald Theater as a sold-out audience paid witness to the first public concert locally from Rodriguez. The now-famous Detroit singer/songwriter finally became a household favorite last year due to the miraculous story told in the Oscar-winning Searching for Sugarman film.
As a young-blooded band of vintage-looking '60s hippie-psych types and Rodriguez finally took the stage, the first of many standing ovations of the evening came -- before he even spoke or played a single note. If the story of Sugarman is about anything other than his music, it is the idea that perseverance and gratitude come in equal measures for an artist as genuine and humble as Rodriguez. There was no mistaking the efforts the performer and the audience maintained toward one another, making for a remarkably satisfying night of his songs.
"Have you ever had a fever?" Rodriguez sang, setting the tone as he strummed his guitar and the band kicked things into the mellow vibe that would remain throughout the night on "Climb Up on My Music." With his ace lead guitarist adding tasteful licks between Rodriguez vocals, the band often morphed into a sludgier, psychedelic -- almost metal -- groove on "Only Good for Conversation" which accented some of the harshness of lyrics.
Being somewhat soft-spoken throughout the night, Rodriguez in almost a whisper revealed his comedic side, "So Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse were breaking up. When the judge inquired about the grounds for divorce Mickey told him, 'She's just fucking Goofy!'" leading into the brilliant, Rodriguez trademark song, "I Wonder."
Decked out in a black leather jacket, shades and black hat, Rodriguez's infectious but low-key energy on stage continued to inspire the crowd with many singing along to "Cold Fact" and "Crucify My Mind." His unassuming nature and delicate vibe spoke volumes as the quiet, bare-bones backing band and his acoustic guitar allowed for the clarity of his lyrics to shimmer through the room.
While the audience soaked it all in, despite the grooving energy of the music, only a few stayed on their feet and swayed to Rodriguez's sound. With wild applause after each song, Rodriguez maintained an earnest response of appreciation all night. Losing his leather jacket, the 70-year-old played a solo guitar on the politically charged "Establishment Blues" and a spirited version of Little Richard's "Lucille."
Perhaps the centerpiece of the night, the crowd roared with applause on "Sugarman," which was missing the production of the original recording, but was amped up with a progression that dissipated into a Sonic Youth-type atonal deconstruction. As a teacher of life lessons of sorts, Rodriquez only spoke a few times through the night, making a greater impact in addressing the crowd each time. "You rock, Brother!" someone in the audience shouted out leaving Rodriguez a simple response again, "Thank You."
"Be gentle with your anger. Anger conquers. Hate is a powerful emotion. It's too much energy to use up on someone or something you don't like." he said with a smile. The soulful efficiency would continue with deep cuts like "To Whom it May Concern."
While there was some shouts for requests in the crowd for "Cause," Rodriguez politely brushed them off, "Man, that is such a brooding song. Thank you, but I'm really trying to keep things light here." he joked. Diving into the upbeat rocker "You'd Like to Admit It," Rodriguez brought on his best doo-wop style scat vocals as he shimmied a bit to the driving beat. Simmering things down once again he crooned to a smooth version of "I Only Have Eyes for You," which -- despite his limited vocal range -- bubbled with soul.
Leaving the crowd wanting more Rodriguez and the band returned for a few covers that kicked off with his hero, Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and a surprisingly clever "Fever" that provided for even more singing in the audience and good cheer. "So I'm a solid 70" he sheepishly proclaimed to a round of applause, "I'm not getting old, I'm getting dead." he joked ending with Sinatra standard, "I'm Gonna Live 'til I Die."
"Power to the People," Rodriguez shouted with his fists raised as the lights went up and the audience roared with appreciation for a unforgettably wonderful night of his songs.
Critic's Bias: I was able to spend an evening, hanging out with Rodriguez last summer before the film came out and found him to be, despite fame, a most genuine, down-to-earth human being. It's refreshing to see not much has changed and that he has maintained the true spirit of his music and continues to bring it and the joy it brings to so many people. Long may he run.
The crowd: Graying, but with heavenly helpings of youthful spirit and great energy. A lot of love in that theater.
Overheard in the crowd: "Man, we were hoping there'd be some hot chicks sitting next to us!"
Random Notebook Dump: You get the feeling that Rodriguez has handled fame later in life the best way he can. He is modest to the bone. "Fame is fleeting" I once heard him say and with him being so thrust in the spotlight suddenly you wonder how he continues to cultivate the persona of his myth and remain true to his natural state of being and efforts to continue. He is a true roll model to any artist.
Climb Up On My Music
Only Good for Conversation
Crucify My Mind
I Think of You
Can't Get Away
Rich Folk Hoax
To Whom it May Concern
You'd Like to Admit It
I Only Have Eyes for You
Thanks For Your Time
Like a Rolling Stone
I'm Gonna Live 'til I Die
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