Septuagenarian Sixto Diaz Rodriguez - or just Rodriguez to his fans – held tightly to 9:30 staffer Josh “That Guy” Burdette’s arm as he shuffled down the aisle towards the stage at a sold out Sixth & I last Thursday. Moving slowly toward a solitary microphone, slightly hunched over and clearly frail, the singer took a sip of water and offered a polite “hello” to the excited and restless crowd. It’s not so much that the years haven’t been kind to Rodriguez as it is that he has very clearly lived them.
But a funny thing happened as Rodriguez slung his guitar over his shoulder and began to tune up; with his face mostly hidden by a black, large brimmed hat, those lines could be seen tightening into a boyish grin that belonged not to an aging folk “hero,” but to that of young, idealistic hippy folkster picking up right where he left off some 30 years prior.
With his soul-filled voice occasionally cracking, the evening very quickly took on the air of an acid soaked sit in, as head Head Rodriguez preached timeless truths to the multigenerational audience lining the pews of the historic synagogue. Fans swayed, sang along and even bowed down as Rodriguez worked through a set shaped around the soundtrack of Searching For Sugarman, a recent documentary chronicling Rodriguez’s long, strange rise to fame or lack thereof.
As the night went on, the singer offered up a buoyant cover of “Blue Suede Shoes” and a sadly hilarious B-side, “You’d Like To Admit It”, featuring the lyrics “You haven't changed and I know that you won't / You stare at my back, then pretend that you don't / You were too cute and correct to be mine / Now I'm kinda glad that we didn't find time.” While both of these showed a lighter side to the singer, where the performance shined was in the songs of politics and protest that people had lined up around the block to see that evening.
Stripped of their horns, strings and various other staples of early to mid 70’s production, songs like “I Wonder”, “Inner City Blues” and “Sugar Man” were reduced to near coffee shop renditions of their former selves, yet lost none of their power or conviction. In fact hearing them in this context illuminated just why Rodriguez’s music has persevered. This is music that was written from the heart and its art lies in its sincerity.
And that is perhaps the biggest takeaway from Thursday evening’s performance. For those lucky enough to gain entrance, they witnessed an artist who seemingly wants nothing more than to be able to speak his mind through song. Rodriguez’s career has had its ups and downs, but his songs have persevered now for over 40 years. Not many artists claim that longevity, and even fewer are still around to spread the word to increasingly younger generations, so get out and see Rodriguez live now while you still can. Even though his songs might prevail, this special musical treasure will eventually fade out of the public eye once again, only this time Rodriguez will disappear forever, back into the cosmic void from whence he came.