By now you should already know the story of Rodriguez - the Detroit folk rock survivor who has undergone a renaissance 40 years after his first shot at fame. And while he could do no wrong in front of the adoring sold-out Auckland crowd, many of whom were turned on to him by Oscar-winning documentary Searching For Sugarman, the real question on his first tour to New Zealand was whether the man and his music could live up to its legend.
Mostly, it did. However at 70, his eye sight is failing, and he looked fragile as he was escorted on and off the stage by his roadie and members of his recently assembled all-Kiwi band (more on them soon). But when he slung on his guitar (he has an effortless, almost lazy playing style), flashed that lovely warm smile, and sang, the frailty disappeared.
So it might not have been as electrifying and poignant as it was when he played songs like Sugarman and the electric blues of Only Good For Conversation the first time round, or even during his tours to South Africa in the late 90s and 2000s when he was "rediscovered" and his popularity boomed. But the soothing tone of his voice, contrasted with his often cutting (best of all is Conversation's "You're the coldest bitch I know.") and socially conscious lyrics, made him mesmerising.
His version of Sugarman started with a subtle flamenco-style intro, before the dreamy and enchanting core of the song morphed into a noisier, more psychedelic ending when the song almost fell apart (in a good way) before Rodriguez final "Sugarman" vocal. Only Good For Conversation is still his most wild song, and could have gone on for a lot longer, and the relentless spiel of This Is Not A Song It's An Outburst: Or The Establishment Blues - where he rattles off his take on everything from gun sales and garbage collection to adultery and the pope - is a timeless gem, and, as the song states, that's a "cold fact".
His backing band, made up of guitarist John Segovia, keyboardist Dominic Blaazer, bassist Maree Thom, and drummer Chris O'Connor, were understandably a little tentative throughout but made the likes of I Wonder a jaunty melancholic delight and by main set finale Forget It they were in the groove.
The thing that let the show down was the number of covers, including a suitably moochy Just One of Those Things and a solid Blue Suede Shoes. Because even though he only released two albums - 1970 debut Cold Fact and follow up Coming From Reality - you'd think he'd have enough material to sustain an almost 90 minute set, especially considering he only played a clutch of songs off the latter.
Yes, his rendition of Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone during the encore was well received, but the crowd wanted to hear Rodriguez' songs.
And fittingly, even though he was looking noticeably drained, yet buoyed by the standing ovation, he finished with his most beautiful song and Coming From Reality's best track, I Think of You, which was the perfect way to go out.By Scott Kara @scottkara Email Scott