The Sugar Man may once have been relegated to pop obscurity, but you’d never know it sitting in the middle of a packed hall in the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre – the living antithesis to a dive bar in his native Detroit. Although the 2012 film Searching for Sugar Man laments the celebrity status that never was for Rodriguez, his Australian fanbase was already well-established prior to the release of the film, and he’s been a bona fide celebrity here since.
The smashed Friday night crowd was wildly excited when Rodriguez, at the ripened age of 74, was walked onto stage by his daughter. Too excited even. The yelling didn’t stop after the first song, nor for the rest of the set. Still, Rodriguez was all good vibes, and took it all in his stride. “I love you!” different people screamed, desperate to be heard over other people yelling the same thing. “I know it’s just the drinks, but I love you too!” Rodriguez responded.
He sounds great considering his age, and pumped out all the tunes people wanted to hear, which is to be expected given his two-album discography. The tunes sounded basically the same as they do on the record – minus the lush ’60s orchestral instrumentation– but people were clearly emotional just to hear them as they were. He threw in a few covers of classics to fill out the set: The Doors’ Light My Fire, Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody to Love, and an unexpected but lovely rendition of Elton John’s Your Song.
You get the sense there’s nothing Rodriguez would rather do in these glory years than sit and play people songs, whether in his backyard or in the enormous Convention Centre. Though I’d have preferred to see him in the former, it’s apparent that he treats them both as the same – at one point spending five minutes tuning two different guitars before deciding he would in fact play the song on the first guitar he had. “Sorry, but I’ve gotta do it right!” he apologised. The crowd didn’t mind. People have waited a lot longer to hear this legend play, and in a year where the most immortal legends have proven mortal, best to enjoy him while we can.
Rodriguez’s latest album, Rodriguez Rocks: Live In Australia, is out now via Inertia.