Searching for 'Sugar Man,' Finding Rodriguez: Concert Review

Rodriguez Performing at The Greek - H 2014
Randall Michelson Photography/The Nederlander Organization

Rodriguez Performing at The Greek - H 2014

The subject of 'Searching for Sugar Man' triumphs on his road to rediscovery.

Rodriguez returns in triumph to Los Angeles, mirroring his own fame in South Africa depicted in the award-winning documentary.

The unfathomable storyline of the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, which  culminates with a series of South Africa arena concerts in 1998, appears to be playing out in similar fashion in America. Two years after Sugar Man's subject, Sixto Rodriguez, was playing solo sets in tiny venues such as the Hotel Cafe, he headlined the Greek Theatre on May 30 and received a hero's welcome from the nearly 5,000 fans in attendance.

While his 65-minute show had its rough spots, the 71-year-old Rodriguez displayed a consistency in his vocals and guitar playing, warmly wrapping his voice around songs popularized in the film -- “Crucify Your Mind,” “The Establishment Blues,” “I Wonder” and, of course, “Sugar Man.” The 18-song show included numbers he has passed over on previous tours, particularly the lushly arranged songs on his second album, Coming from Reality. The ballad “To Whom It May Concern” was particularly affecting as a mid-set change of pace.

The Detroit native's short-lived career in the U.S. ran from the late '60s until about 1973 after his two albums for Sussex Records went nowhere and he was dropped from the label best known for having Bill Withers on its artist roster. Light in the Attic reissued the albums six years ago and Rodriguez's name floated around indie-rock circles, where he was touted as an overlooked, street-savvy singer-songwriter who occupied a unique space between Bob Dylan, Donovan and Marvin Gaye.

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Searching for Sugar Man, which the singer did not reference during the concert, put Rodriguez on the road while the film was playing festivals and in theaters in the summer of 2012, propelling his career in a way no artist had ever seen. Unlike previous shows in Los Angeles, he had no guitar troubles at the Greek, and was able hit every note attempted with his pacing as good as one would expect from an artist who uses a set list as a guideline and not a strict running order.  His three-piece band has clearly learned his repertoire from the records.

Rodriguez has not presented any new material in his shows, preferring to cover Carl Perkins' “Blue Suede Shoes,” Little Richard's “Lucille,” the -20s standard “Learnin' the Blues” and the Little Willie John/Peggy Lee hit, “Fever.” The rockers were the shakiest moments of the show, though “Fever” and “Birth” allowed him to display his ability to swing as a guitarist.

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Curiously, long-touted Warner Bros. singer/songwriter LP opened the show with a short set of songs from her forthcoming release, Forever for Now (June 3). A singer of astounding vocal range and character, LP delivered bare bones versions of her album's songs, playing with a guitarist-keyboardist and drummer while she accompanied herself on ukulele. She may well have won some new fans with her better songs, among them  the first single “Night Like This,” “Tokyo Sunrise” and “Into the Wild.”

Set list:

Climb Up on My Music
This is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst: or, The Establishment Blues
I Wonder
Love Me or Leave Me (Nina Simone cover)
Lucille (Little Richard cover)
Only Good for Conversation
Crucify Your Mind
Sugar Man
Inner City Blues
To Whom It May Concern
Blue Suede Shoes (Carl Perkins cover)
Rich Folks Hoax
Like Janis
Learnin’ the Blues (Frank Sinatra cover)
You’d Like to Admit It
Fever (Little Willie John cover)
Forget It

I’m Gonna Live Till I Die (Frank Sinatra cover)