'Sugar Man's' Rodriguez in New York City: Concert Review

Paul Familetti
Although delivering a far from perfect show, the musical Cinderella story that is Rodriguez still thrills his fans.

The long-lost singer, found in the Oscar-winning documentary, plays to a sell-out crowd at NYC's Beacon Theatre.

It doesn’t look like Rodriguez’s coach will turn into a pumpkin anytime soon.

The 70-year-old Detroit singer/songwriter -- who spent decades in obscurity before being brought into the limelight with the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man -- has embarked on an expansive concert tour to cash in on his newfound fame. As he recently put it to Rolling Stone, “We have to strike while the iron is hot.”

And the iron is apparently scorching, judging by the series of dates booked in the New York City area alone. Sunday night’s sold-out Beacon Theatre show is to be followed by equally SRO nights at Town Hall (4/10) and Radio City Music Hall (10/10), as well as an arena show at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Oct. 9.

It would be nice to report that Sunday’s show was an unalloyed triumph befitting its Cinderella-style backstory. But while the sentiment was there -- the packed house clearly adored him -- the music itself was somewhat less than satisfying.

VIDEO: Rodriguez Reflects on a Crazy Year With a Hollywood Ending

Needing assistance to get onto the stage due to the glaucoma that has robbed him of much of his vision, Rodriguez, his face nearly hidden by sunglasses and a large floppy hat, delivered an uneven performance marred by tentative vocals and the sloppiness of his five-piece pick-up band. The songs which sound so majestic in the original 1970-1971 recordings only intermittently registered with full force.

The show seemed more appropriate for an intimate club than a large theater, let alone an arena. His voice, although still containing a youthful sweetness, seemed weak, and his scratchy guitar playing barely registered.

His newly rediscovered (at least on these shores), psychedelically-tinged songs still pack a potent punch, from the soulful “Sugar Man” to the lovely “I Think of You” to the playful “I Wonder” to the scorching “Only Good for Conversation” to the hypnotically ranting “This is Not a Song It’s an Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues.” Featuring memorable melodies and incisively poetic lyrics, they recall such obvious influences as Bob Dylan and Donovan.

But their impact was lessened by the perfunctory treatment they received, especially by the band that rarely seemed in synch with each other, let alone their leader. “Sugar Man,” which should have been a show highlight, suffered in particular from an aimless jam that descended into cacophony.

Despite the fact that he has enough original material to fill a 90-minute show, the singer threw in uninspired covers of such disparate songs as “Just One of Those Things,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “Sea of Heartbreak,” “I Only Have Eyes For You” and, most jarringly, a show-closing “Nice ‘n’ Easy” that didn’t exactly erase memories of Sinatra. He was most effective with an encore rendition of “Like a Rolling Stone” that emphasized his similarities to Dylan.

For all the evening’s flaws, the communal emotional vibe between Rodriguez and the audience was palpable. Removing his jacket to reveal his powerfully muscled arms, the singer received appreciative wolf-whistles. And he frequently regaled the crowd with humorous asides, including a profane Mickey Mouse joke and the warning that “Sugar Man” is “a descriptive, not a prescriptive song.”

Set List:

I Like to Admit It
I Wonder
Just One of Those Things
Only Good For Conversation
Crucify Your Mind
Inner City Blues
Dead End Street
Sugar Man
I Think of You
Can’t Get Away
Rich Folks Hoax
Blue Suede Shoes
Sea of Heartbreak
I Only Have Eyes for You
To Whom It May Concern
This is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst
Like Janis
Forget It
Like a Rolling Stone
Nice ‘n’ Easy

Twitter: @THRMusic