Music fans in the rest of the world were introduced to Rodriguez by the 2012 documentary ‘Searching For Sugarman’.
In Australia, many have been listening to him since the '70s and the speed with which this show (29 November) sold out is a testament to his ongoing popularity.
Archie Roach began to play while the sun was still up outside, and the venue was already packed. Sitting down at The Thebby always feels a bit odd, but it seemed apt for this storytelling session from an elder statesman of Australian music. The onstage set-up was simple: three guitars and a keyboard, and that allowed the lyrics to shine through.
Each song was preceded by an introductory story and his pleas for spiritual connection and respect for country resonated with the audience. Most of the tracks were taken from his most recent album, but whether the crowd knew them or not they were clearly moved.
‘Get Back To The Land’ was a slow, soul burner and the title track was even more emotive, an elegant, spiritual pleading with the audience to ‘Let Love Rule’. A yidaki joined in for the final song, adding thump to ‘Mighty Clarence River’ and turning it into a country-soul stomper. The rousing applause when Archie left the stage showed how much the audience appreciated it.
Then after a good-humoured welcome to country, the man himself appeared. Led haltingly out to centre stage, his eyesight is obviously failing but he still looked magisterial with furs draped over his jacket and those trademark black shades.
Though Rodriguez looked frail, as he launched into ‘Climb Up On My Music’ it was clear that he sounds as good as ever. His voice still has a rich, confident quality and he warmed up over the first few songs before the band began to take a more understated role as a huge cheer greeted ‘Crucify Your Mind’.
An even bigger cheer erupted at the unmistakable bassline for ‘I Wonder’, and by this time most of the crowd were singing along as he followed it with ‘Sugar Man’. By this time the fur had long been discarded, and soon the jacket and shirt followed.
Remaining centre stage in just a singlet, the Sugar Man elicited plenty of screams from the ladies, who appreciated this stone fox singing cold fact. They kept screaming when the band kicked into ‘Light My Fire’ but when the musical accompaniment was more stripped back his voice could really shine, as it did on ‘Inner City Blues’.
Sam Cooke’s ‘Chain Gang’ was a surprising choice of cover, and clearly not as well known to the audience. It was the perfect choice, though, showing off a sweeter, crooning style. By the time he started to sing ‘Forget It’, we all knew that was goodbye and thanked him for his time.
The encore was brief and he finished with one of his newest songs, ‘I’m Gonna Live Until I Die’. It left a few in the audience laughing, and hoping that he’d be around long enough to come back another time.