Posts Tagged ‘Sixto Rodriguez’

Buried Treasure: Cold Fact

25 June 2010

[Today: Through the cracks…]

Drop the needle anywhere on Sixto Diaz Rodriguez’ 1970 debut, Cold Fact, and it’s confounding to figure out how this music didn’t get across to a wider audience – these are catchy, poetic slices of urban woe, set to an appealing folk strum. At the same time, it’s immediately obvious why these songs were doomed from the outset – they were simply too stark and angry for a crowd weaned on James Taylor and Carole King. Cold Fact was too folk for a rock audience, and too rock for a folk audience, and somewhere between the two it fell through a crack, all the way to South Africa.

The story of this album has almost taken on the quality of legend: after Cold Fact and its follow-up failed to make an impression, the remainders were crated up and put into storage in a warehouse in New York City. In 1976, several thousand copies were discovered and shipped to South Africa and Australia, where Rodriguez had earned a steady cult following. After a few shows in Australia in 1981, he slipped into a domestic life, raising a family and even running for public office. His popularity in South Africa increased to the point that he was able to headline a stadium tour of that country in 1998, but it was the inclusion of ‘Sugar Man’ on David Holmes’ 2002 compilation Come Get It I Got It that finally broke Rodriguez to the kind of appreciative audience he deserved all along.

Rodriguez functions as a latino Bob Dylan, using pointed wordplay to tell a story and get across some larger truths. But Dylan captured visions of kings and queens, and his Desolation Row was a mere abstraction, a literary device used to evoke feelings of doom. Rodriguez – a native of Detroit and the son of Mexican immigrants – was slinging his truth straight from the gutter, without varnish or sweetener. His reporting came from the boulevard of broken dreams and busted windows that ran right down the middle of Motown.

Album opener ‘Sugar Man’ is a haunting love song to “jumpers, coke, sweet mary jane”, an insidiously dreamy number that evokes drug impairment as well as any song this side of Lou Reed’s ‘Heroin’. ‘Establishment Blues’ (full title: ‘THIS IS NOT A SONG, IT’S AN OUTBURST: OR THE ESTABLISHMENT BLUES’) is an outburst – against bigoted cops, illegal handguns, garbage strikes, organized crime, divorce, cigarettes and a hundred other urban ills. Predictably, it’s an evergreen song that sounds more topical now than ever. ‘Inner City Blues’ is a stroll through real desolation and into the dark heart of Detroit, while ‘Jane S. Piddy’ follows an acid-head rebel loser as she disappears into the fog of San Francisco. ‘Hate Street Dialogue’, ‘Crucify Your Mind’, ‘Gommorah (A Nursery Rhyme)’ – the song titles paint a picture that isn’t pretty, but Rodriguez took the coffin dust and concrete hearts of his hometown and used them to paint his masterpiece…

Listen: Sugar Man

Listen: Establishment Blues

Listen: Inner City Blues

Rodriguez @ Slim’s

27 June 2009

Rodriguez | Slim's, San Francisco | June, 26th, 2009

Sixto Rodriguez played in San Francisco on Friday night, for just the second time since the 1970 release of his cult classic album Cold Fact. Rodriguez didn’t headline a show in the United States until August 2008 because Cold Fact unfairly tanked on release. Against all odds, that album would later find a platinum second life in South Africa and Australia that allowed him to resurrect his career in the 90’s. His music is stripped-down psychedelic folk, a few degrees angrier than Dylan, but with that same kind of dense wordplay and acute social observation. Rodriguez is a Detroit native, so much of his music concerns the plight of the down-and-out and includes plenty of rough edges and heavy language, which may have contributed to the stop/start nature of his career.

But regardless of the winding road that he took to get there, Rodriguez hit the stage a few minutes after 11pm, along with an eight-piece band that included sax, trombone, and flute. Comeback concerts of this sort are always nail-biting affairs, especially when the artist involved has been in moth balls for so long, and I’ve grown to love the accompanying album as much as Cold Fact. Shuggie Otis broke my heart under similar circumstances a few years back with a horrible, horrible, horrible (I could just keep typing it forever) show that emptied The Fillmore in record time and left me pitching his discs in the recycling bin. So when Rodriguez hit the stage, my fingers were crossed… tightly.

Rodriguez & band | Slim's, San Francisco | June 26th, 2009

He was led to the front of the stage by a young handler, and it was obvious that his sight isn’t all it could be. When the guitarist in his band started showing him the fingering for the first song, I thought we were all doomed to a long evening in hell. And then he started playing, and everything was ok. His voice is more frail than what’s on record from 40 years ago, but that’s to be expected. Other than that, he sounded shockingly good. His band really brought it, especially on a fantastic version of ‘Sugar Man’ that included a squalling horn freakout that would have made Pharaoh Sanders smile.

‘Establishment Blues’ was another highlight – it’s always impressive to hear a 66-year old man throw himself into lyrics like “This system’s gonna fall soon, to an angry young tune/And that’s a concrete cold fact.” His set list also included a bunch of other fine songs that nobody’s ever heard of – songs that had this less-than-capacity crowd singing along, cheering wildly, and yelling out props for the flautist. Late in his set, in response to one of the many shouted WE LOVE YOU‘s from the crowd, Rodriguez gazed out from behind his cooler-than-cool sunglasses and had a moment of recognition. “I know my audience,” he said with a big grin. “Drive safe man.”


[Partial set list…]

Rodriquez | Slim's, San Francisco | June 26th, 2009 | Partial setlist