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Sweet return of the Sugar Man

HE MAY need a hand getting to his microphone, but 70-year-old Sixto Rodriguez is fairly on the ball. And you'd want to be when faced with an overexcited audience that have clearly been waiting too long for your next visit.

Here we have a man whose last proper record was released in 1971 -- right before the Detroit music maker swapped the studio for a construction site. But it's not that simple a story. Unbeknownst to the bloke (who never hit the big time back home), Rodriguez went on to become something of an icon in South Africa; a legend, even, given the rumours that circulated about his so-called 'death'.

You might say it's a strong enough topic for a documentary, and there's little doubting that everyone in Vicar Street has seen this year's critically-acclaimed Searching for Sugar Man. The film and its accompanying soundtrack are the reasons he's back on the road. What's more, it's clear that Rodriguez is enjoying his return to the spotlight. But strip away the novelty of watching a man revisiting his glory days and you'll find that there's not a whole lot keeping the Rodriguez boat afloat.


1970's Sugar Man is, of course, a handy track to have in your back pocket. Hardly a pension song, it is, instead, one of a handful of trippy folk numbers where everything goes according to plan. He's a humorous performer -- a skilful guitarist with a voice that belies both his age and his worn demeanour. Far too often, however, his band's attempts to light a fuse under a disjointed offering of rock and soul-flavoured tunes fall flat.

There's an impressive cover of Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone, but it also serves to highlight that the man to whom Rodriguez aspired to be covered more ground in one song than Rodriguez ever did with his entire catalogue (two albums, mind). Which is a shame, because had things turned out differently, Rodriguez could have been an important artist.

Tonight, the fans seem to think he already is, when really, he's just doing the best with what he's got. HHIII