I first met Rodriguez on the silver screen. Oddly enough, my parents are my go-to for movies to check out, and one day while I was on the phone with them, they wouldn't stop talking about this film called Searching For Sugar Man. They insisted that I bypass the trailer and online reviews and head straight to the theater.
I looked it up and found it playing at SLC's very own Broadway Theater, and headed over to catch the next showing. I sat down in a nearly empty theater, not quite sure what to expect and eagerly awaited the film to start: Cue feelings of excitement, curiosity, intrigue and overall just fuzzy feel goods. I left the theater determined to further discover the music of Rodriguez and lose myself in it. Now, don't get me wrong, Bob Dylan is really cool and all, but for some reason, Sixto Rodriguez resonated with me far more than Bob ever has (sorry guys).
I downloaded Cold Fact that same day and kept it on repeat for weeks.
Fast forward a few months, as I was scrolling through the feed of the face (aka, Facebook), a little orange image with “Rodriguez” written across the top came into view. I clicked to enlarge it and almost threw my laptop off of my lap. Rodriguez was coming to SLC! Sixto Rodriguez was actually going to play a show here.
As the weeks went by, I had the chance to see Searching for Sugar Man a second time, renewing my excitement to see him live. News of a sold-out show spread through the streets of the Internet and status updates of those in need of tickets filled my feed in the days leading up to the concert.
Showtime rolled around and I tried to determine how the night would go. It was going to be amazing, right? Images of Rodriguez playing to a packed house in South Africa entered my mind, and I felt like 13-year old me was heading to a Backstreet Boys concert.
However, I don't have as much stamina as I did back in those days, and knowing the show was sold out gave me a bit of anxiety, so I waited on being first in line. I grabbed a bite to eat with a friend and downed a cold one to keep my nerves at ease. We made our way to The Complex on foot, bumping into a few friends who told us they had picked up tickets off of Craigslist for $60 a piece.
We strolled up to The Complex, taking note of the few people out front still hoping to buy a ticket off of someone. It was a quarter to 10 and the opener, Jenny O., had just left the stage. As we made our way inside, it was apparent just how many people were there. I can always judge a crowd by my glasses. If my glasses fog up two steps into a room, I instantly ready myself for awkward, sweaty arm rubs and lots of “excuse me's,” which is exactly what happened when we stepped inside.
We bypassed the drink line and found a spot positioned perfectly under one of the air vents in the back, giving us enough room to breathe and move our arms around. As I looked around at the crowd, I realized that the average age was probably 40 to 60, rather than the usual 25–35 age group I was used to. Two feet in front of us, a group of giggly 50-something women took photos of each other, throwing up the piece sign, dancing around, one of them rocking a pink “Rodriguez” shirt, with the infamous image of him walking down the road on it. This was their version of a Backstreet Boys concert.
The house lights dimmed a few minutes later and the 2,500-plus crowd welcomed Rodriguez to Salt Lake City, as he was helped on stage, wearing his signature all black and sunglasses. He got up to the mic and before he said anything, he put on his hat, his long hair hanging from the sides, and a giant grin on his face. Watching this 70-year-old man get ready to play was one of the cutest things I've seen.
The baseline of “I Wonder” softly started and I readied my feet to move along to the famous “ba da da da da duh dum dum” baseline. Straining to hear Sixto's words, my heart immediately sank. In a room that large, with that many people, and what seemed to be a clueless sound guy, you could hardly hear a thing. It sounded as if the music was actually the house music, being played in between bands.
The conversations five feet in front of us were more audible than the sounds of Rodriguez playing on stage. I was crushed. We moved around a bit, hoping that centering ourselves in the middle of the stage, still standing in the back, would help. But it only got worse. The crowd was angsty, yelling out to turn it up, at one point someone started booing. Luckily one megafan walked over and told him to stop being so disrespectful. After all, Rodriguez sounded on point. Of what I could hear over the angry crowd, he sounded just as good as he did in my headphones. Unfortunately, you could hardly hear his band, which made everything sound off. A few songs in, it became more and more frustrating to sit there and listen.
He played a couple of songs and talked for a minute. Thanking us, telling those who shouted out “we love you,” that he loved them, too. You could hear the kindness in his voice, you just couldn't hear the music that he was there to play. After tapping my foot enough times, completely out of frustration, I relaxed for a minute when he started to play “Sugar Man.” The crowd seemed to forget that the sound, to put it lightly, sucked, and they sang along with him. As soon as it was done, I just couldn't take it anymore. I looked at my friend, and we silently agreed and turned for the door.
I tried to hide my disappointment as we walked back home, pretending that it wasn't that big of a deal that the show was a complete bust. It's not as if I had been a fan of Rodriguez since 1970 and had waited all these years to see him. But in the time I got to know him, I felt a similar connection. Rodriguez came into my life at a time when my ears had been flooded with more electronica than anyone should allow themselves to listen to. He was my breath of fresh air last summer.
The morning after the show, I actually received a voicemail from a colleague (he's older, so I can use big words like that), apologizing for not sending me an email the night before and said he had been offered a ticket to the sold-out Rodriguez show. He paused for a minute, then finished his message with, “it was the worst show ever…”
I won't go as far as saying it was the worst show ever. But it was the worst sound, ever. Ever.
When it comes down to it, I won't say I would never see him again, because ultimately, he sounded great, from what I could hear. Unfortunately, that was probably my one chance to see him. I mean, the guy is 70. I would give him a second chance in heartbeat if it meant hearing and feeling the music. For now, I'll just pretend that show never actually happened, and stick to the images of him playing to a sold-out crowd in South Africa.
Don't let the shitty show reviews and comments from your friends deter you from listening to Rodriguez. Learn all about him, his story, listen to his music on his website, and check out Searching For Sugar Man. You might not have the chance to see him live, but his music will change you.