Warmed by Rodriguez

By Rosa Redoz

Sixto RodriquezEventim (Hammersmith) Apollo London March 13 2014.

FolkWorks British correspondent Rosa Redoz filed this report from Rodriguez’s new European Tour before he heads across the Atlantic to his hometown of Detroit and on to the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on May 30.

Turning to his band, the slightly stooped but sharp suited Rodriguez, applauded them warmly. They had just rolled through ‘Lucille’. Rodriguez’s pick had dis-attached and the lead guitarist had continued his solo while performing emergency repairs on the star’s guitar. They had not missed a beat.

Warmth was the evening’s watchword.

A pink moon hung over Harrow Hill as I headed into the ‘smoke’ from the shires. England is in daffodil primrose and bluebell spring.

The sold out concert was in the Hammersmith (Eventim) Apollo. This is art deco glory built in the 1930s. Its curved lights and oval bar balcony restored to its cream sparkling glory unlike the shabby grunge of its appearance in 1980s and 1990s. Then, I saw its stage graced by The Tubes, Frank Zappa and his little daughter, (Moon, on guitar) and Bob Dylan during his pancake make-up and Jesus days.

Eventim Hammersmith ApolloThis night, the star was led out to his spot at 9:15 pm, after a storming support from the eminent Detroiter; Dennis Coffey. His four-song set sound was a mixture of Parliament, Captain Beefheart and Muscle Shoals funk dirty guitar.

Rodriguez’s failing eyesight and tentative gait belied the certainty of his initial command ‘none of that feedback, please’. On went his hat, over the flowing grey hair and we were off. He rolled into a sweet set including his great hits: Sugarman, I Wonder and Just One of Those Things. The melancholy Hispanic rock added to the mellow fraternalism of the evening. His guitar playing was clear and tuneful as was his plaintive but forthright voice. As Ross Altman has written in his FolkWorks review for the LA concert, he is blessed with a voice preserved though a period of obscurity.

He chatted to the lively audience; he asked us to allow him a ‘senior moment’ as he cajoled us to ‘take more hugs and don’t do drugs’; ‘be smart, don’t’ start’. He’d gauged his comments well. I’d expected more of his chronological contemporaries in the audience, but most seemed to be more like 20-40 year olds; judging by their enthusiastic beer consumption and mobile phone use. Standing audience members in the stalls danced and sang to the lilting Latin rock rhythms. They were bemused by his fist-clenched instruction: ‘Power to the People’. Those born after the 1980s, and the Miners’ Strike in which a state army of horse-riding police destroyed a national trade union movement would be puzzled by Rodriguez’ invocation to revolt. He may have not known how apt his slogan was on a week when Bob Crow, the respected and courageous leader of the RMT union died suddenly at the age of 52.

Warmth and collaboration were the key to the evening. As he was helped on to the stage, we knew he’d done the same for his family during his anonymous working years. Affection reflected back from the audience, enthralled that he had reappeared. And the gentle swelling unison of several thousand people in an old London cinema singing along to the bittersweet ‘Sugarman’.

Rosa Redoz can be reached at rosaredoz@hotmail.com She teaches Shakespeare to lucky students in Hertfordshire, near London.