Rodriguez @Stadthalle

Finding the Sugar Man

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If you have seen Searching For Sugar Man then there is no need for me to explain the cult status Sixto Rodriguez has across the world at the moment. If you haven’t seen the film, go watch it, and read this review another time. If you’re in Vienna, then go watch it at this weekend’s Poolinale for example at Top Kino. It is without doubt one of the best musical documentaries of recent years, if not all time. We advise you to not watch it hungover, as the many feel good moments in it may force those half drunken onion ninjas to start silently chopping in your vicinity.

The excitement and demand for tickets was understandably huge when it was announced that the Sugar Man would be playing at the Stadthalle, but only in hall F, which has a capacity of 2,200.

The lucky ones that managed to get their hands on a ticket or those that were clever enough to buy a  Poolinale Sugar Man special were treated to an event last night which they probably won’t ever experience again, simply because the likelihood of him returning to Vienna is pretty slim.

Seated concerts are somewhat of a conundrum. At time they work perfectly, while on other occasions they can ruin the atmosphere of a gig completely.  The performance in the Stadthalle walked the tightrope over both of these, falling into both categories multiple times. The brief outing of the support act Cory Becker unfortunately did nothing much to warm the fans up for what was to follow. His brand of folk songwriting may well work wonderfully in a small , intimate location while having a few beers, but the emotion of his music was lost in the wide open spaces of the Stadthalle, as it  floated like hot air to the top of the room leaving only silence to linger on.

After a short break it was finally time for what the crowd had been waiting for. The 71 year hobbled onto the stage held on either side by members of his tour entourage and looked more than a little frail as they hung his guitar around him like a heavy cross. Donned in an over-sized and relatively cheap looking suit as you would expect from a man who places little value on material wealth. A slight pause, a smile to the crowd as he pulled his glasses out of his pocket like a professor about to give a lecture, and an uproar of cheers as he placed his hat carefully on his still Long locks and he was off. A number of solo songs started the set as his now iconic voice sailed through the seated rows.

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The multi-national band from the US, UK and New Zealand then joined and fans were treated to all the “hits” of Cold Fact and Coming From Reality as well as a surprising number of covers and newer material. It was a performance which brought a smile to your face. It wasn’t a gig to go crazy and dance or party you head off to, as some hecklers in the crowd seemed to think they were owed. It was a gig to appreciate the existence of the man, the realisation that for almost 30 years this musician’s music lay unrecognized and unknown by most parts of the world. People that wanted to dance danced (on their seats after seeing their attempts to fill the empty void between artist and fans rebuffed by the security), the rest sat in awe and admiration as to what was in front of them.

The man himself did not say much, but when he did it was often political and societal as we have grown to expect. As the gig went on the invisible wall that the seated arrangement had built between band and crowd was slowly broken down, until the two sides were finally united for the encore as fans stormed the pit, and there was nothing the security could do about. It was the only way to send off a legend, surrounded by adoring fans and with a smile on his face. .

 

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