Koninklijk Theater Carre, Amsterdam: Sometimes, you cannot separate the quality of a performance from the circumstances of your life. When I discovered Sixto Rodriguez a few years back – through the documentary Searching for Sugar Man – I was in a place of misery, using his music as just another painkiller.
Last night, when I went to see his concert in Amsterdam, my life had changed – or maybe I had changed; we can never be quite sure – and I heard something else: a message of change and acceptance.
Rodriguez’s music does not tell us to move on, to leave the past behind. It tells us that there is no choice. We are a part of life, and life is always changing. Each day we die and each morning we are born again. With his calm acceptance of change, Sixto Rodriguez invites us to do the same, to dismantle any illusions of permanence and personal control and see life as it is.
This is not per se what his lyrics say. These tell stories of love and heartbreak, of social inequality, of big city alienation and the lure of drugs. But it’s what Rodriguez’s voice says, maybe even more on stage in 2016 than on his studio albums from the ’70s. There is a sadness in it, a hard-won sense of loneliness and pain as it slips down into his lower register, yet also a deep sense of humility and compassion.
It has little to do with the strength of his singing, which showed the signs of age as he reached for the high notes. Nor has it much to do with Sixto Rodriguez’s band, though it supported him with a perfect economy. It has even less to do with the technical problems that kept interrupting the show, disrupting the amplification of Rodriguez´s guitar. It’s part of the soul of his voice.
I couldn’t hear it when I first heard his albums, at a time when I looked at four walls and thought they were the measure of my world. Yet even then, when my mind refused to accept it, I must have felt something stir, I must have felt on some deep level that this voice had something to say, something that I desperately needed to hear. Last night, when I sat through one of the most moving concerts of my life, I felt it burn through every note that Sixto Rodriguez sang.
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