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Rodriguez – The Bowery Ballroom – May 15, 2009

May 18th, 2009

While his music could’ve seemed dated, somehow because he hasn’t been playing these same songs night after night for 40 years—and perhaps because his lyrics about disillusionment and rebellion are beginning to ring true again—his material has remained fresh and topical.

Sixto RodriguezLike Paul Pena before him, Sixto Rodriguez remained a cult favorite for a long time before finally earning the acknowledgement and attention he deserves. And just like with the “Jet Airliner” and “Gonna Move” writer, that recognition has come several decades after recording his first two albums. Rodriguez’s Cold Fact and Coming from Reality came out in the early ’70s, and now that they’ve been re-released, he’s on his first-ever U.S. tour at 67.

Onstage at The Bowery on Friday, Rodriguez was calm and cool and dressed all in black with a Yoda-like Zen about him. But his smile made it clear that he was happy to be able to play these songs he’d recorded so many years ago for this rapt audience. The room was comfortably filled. And it seemed like everyone there was concentrating solely on this cool brand of folk rock because there was very little side chatter. Those in the surprisingly young crowd danced and intently sang along to songs like the inquisitive “I Wonder” and the glorious “Sugar Man.”

Rodriguez is still firmly rooted in the ’60s. He wore a peace-sign belt buckle and made several references to not trusting people. Interestingly, while his music could’ve seemed dated, somehow because he hasn’t been playing these same songs night after night for 40 years—and perhaps because his lyrics about disillusionment and rebellion are beginning to ring true again—his material has remained fresh and topical. Much of that has to do with his young, talented seven-piece backing band. The singer-songwriter even acknowledged it after one tune: “That was one of the first songs I ever wrote and it was only the second time I’ve played it in, like, years. But with this band, it cooks.”

Rodriguez capped off the show with a strong solo two-song encore. He played “Forget It,” with the appropriate line “Thanks for your time/Then you can thank me for mine,” before finishing with a lovely cover of “At Last” that came off as appropriately fitting rather than a cliché. “I love you. I won’t forget this,” he said at the conclusion. And judging by his constant smile throughout the show, he probably won’t. —R. Zizmor