Photographs by Sarah Rix.
If you haven’t watched the documentary Searching for Sugar Man yet, do yourself a favor and pause reading this until you watch said documentary. You won’t be disappointed.
The subject of that documentary, 73 year-old Detroit native Sixto Rodriguez returned to Toronto on Friday, December 18 for the first of two sold out shows at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The “ordinary legend” as he called himself, has been enjoying a resurrection in his career and a feverish crowd eagerly awaited the opportunity to get their weekend by being serenaded by their humble hero.
Looking a little frail, Rodriguez was led on stage by two minders about 15 minutes after the early scheduled start time of 8pm. Clad in leather pants and jacket, he would eventually lose the jacket revealing a sleeveless t-shirt and a physical form more impressive than mine. He took some time tuning his guitar but as soon as the opening strums of “Inner City Blues” filled the room, everyone was ready to be amazed. For the next hour, it was Rodriguez and his guitar making the diverse audience swoon.
For a 73 year-old, the man’s voice still sounds rooted in the early ‘70s when his two albums, 1970’s Cold Fact and 1971’s Coming From Reality, were released. His sweet smooth voice defies his rugged appearance and was like sweet syrup for the most part. He did struggle to hit the high notes of the evening but he handled that by turning away from the mic.
This was my first time to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and I was not disappointed. The seats were comfortable, the sightlines were clear as was the sound, although I will say it probably could have been slightly louder.
While Rodriguez could have easily filled the hour with his own material, for some reason he rolled out the essentials and then relied heavily on covers. He did deliver crowd-rousing versions of “Sugar Man”, “I Wonder” and did forget some of the lines of “This Is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst; or the Establishment Blues”. The crowd, clearly thrilled clapped and sang along the best they could. It was his originals that got the most boisterous response despite hitting the crowd with covers as varied as his spirited runs through Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”, Little Willie John’s “Fever” to more fragile takes on Harry Warren’s “I Only Have Eyes for You” and Elton John’s “Your Song” among others.
Judging by his rapport with the crowd, the success of his resurrected career hasn’t tampered with his humble and genuinely warm persona, even amazed himself at these sold out shows, some upcoming Amsterdam shows and selling a staggering amount of tickets for his upcoming South African tour. He really could do no wrong, although I’m sure the crowd would have easily stuck around through more lengthy tune-ups for another hour or two of their hero.