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Rodriguez - World Cafe Live (Philadelphia) - Sunday, October 28, 2012

3 November 2012

Having missed his show at Johnny Brenda’s back in 2009, I figured that this would be a good chance to see the Detroit-based singer-songwriter in a rare Philadelphia appearance since he rarely tours, is about 70 years old and when he does tour, he focuses on South Africa, one part of the world (the other places primarily being Australia and Zimbabwe) that picked up on his incredible early ’70s records even when they went ignored in both the U.S. and the U.K. back then.

Though I wouldn’t call it great, I can’t say that it was a show that I’ll forget anytime soon. Playing solo, but standing and with a table full of bottled water at his side, this felt more like a show in Rodriguez‘s (or someone else’s) living room than a club show. He chatted a lot between songs as he tuned relentlessly between songs (I guess many require different tunings?) and the topics ranged from why he’s voting for President Obama to why more women should run for public office. He also cracked jokes, sometimes awkwardly. When asked about the Detroit Tigers, who were still in the World Series, he shrugged and said he’s rooting for them, but that they always steal attention away from him and that he’s not much of a sports fan. Imagine a mild-mannered, 70-year old singer-songwriter in dark black sunglasses and a leather vest saying this stuff and you’ll get an idea of the weird, but cozy vibe of the show.

The song selection was also rather strange. Though he did play some of his best material (particularly material from 1971’s Cold Fact like “Crucify Your Mind” and “I Wonder”), he augmented his set with covers of ’50s and ’60s songs like “Let the Good Times Roll” (which he opened with). With two albums of great original material to choose from, this was bizarre, though the covers were enjoyable enough. He explained it by saying that “I’m a musician, so that’s why I do covers”. OK.

Overall, while I’m glad that I finally got to see him play and that he’s been able to enjoy his late-career success here in the U.S. (finally) on the heels of the reissues of his work and the recently-released documentary Searching for Sugar Man (which probably had to do with why this show sold out well in advance), I was hoping for a better show that delved deeper into his small but formidable back catalog.


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