Bournemouth International Centre
Sunday 9th March 2014
Support Chloe Charles
Climb Up On My Music
Crucify Your Mind
Fever (Little Willie John, Peggy Lee etc cover)
Love Me Or Leave Me (Nina Simone cover)
Only Good For Conversation
I Only Have Eyes For You (Flamingos cover)
This Is Not A Song It’s An Outburst: Establishment Blues
To Whom It May Concern
Lucille (Little Richard cover)
Unchained Melody (650 other people, cover)
Blue Suede Shoes (Carl Perkins cover)
Learning The Blues (Ella Fitzgerald cover)
You’d Like To Admit It
Rich Folks Hoax
I’m Gonna Live Until I Die (Frank Sinatra cover)
Let’s do the support at the end, though Chloe Charles was far and away the best thing of the evening.
Rodriguez is a legend. The audience hang on every word. They love him. Rodriguez is also frail, and visually-impaired. He has to be led on and off stage, and he obscures his face with a top hat. It’s known that like Chuck Berry he eschews a regular band and says he has a South African band, an Australian band, a British band, a European band. It’s also said the band get set lists but that he doesn’t like to rehearse. It’s the opening night of a tour.
The BIC is not renowned for its sound. We checked “best available” for tickets and wound up with centre terrace front row, exactly facing the centre mic, two feet behind the soundboard. That must be the sweetest spot in the hall for sound. The sound of vocal, guitar, viola and keys for support Chloe Charles was astonishingly good. As good as you ever hear in that hall.
From our seats: Right behind the soundboard
It’s around this point at BIC concerts that I start blaming the sound mix. At this spot, they can and did (earlier) get first-rate sound. So the sound for Rodriguez cannot be down to mixing but to the basic signal from the musicians. The bass was soft, farty, notes were totally indistinguishable. Awful bass sound. The drums clattered pedestrianly. The lead guitar jangled along quite well. The vocal was tinny after Chloe Charles’ soaring vocal sound. Everything sounded and looked unrehearsed. This was the first date of the tour, and my reaction was ‘pick-up band, no rehearsal, abysmal.’ They were poor on all fronts, though the chatter between numbers suggested they had no idea of the set list and had to join in as best they could. Not entirely their fault. However, the joy of Cold Fact is very much that Dennis Coffey produced it using moonlighting Motown session guys. The taut bass playing helps make the album, here it was replaced by leaden plurps. I’m not suggesting the bass player was playing badly – it might have been brilliant, But it was too indistinct to tell. Dennis Coffey played lead on Cold Fact as he did on The Temptations psychedelic hits. On Coming From Reality Chris Spedding played lead guitar. Nuff said.
Coming out we compared it to Brian Wilson, also frail and somewhat lost, but with a brilliant first-rate band, meticulous playing and timing, organization of the set list. This had none of that.
Who on Earth chose the set list? I reckon 90% of Rodriguez fans would put Crucify Your Mind, I Wonder, Sugar Man and Only Good For Conversation as their top four Rodriguez songs, all from Cold Fact. While it may not be the best, Climb Up On My Music is the opener for Coming From Reality and the catchiest tune. So what possessed them to get all five into the first third of the evening? Where did it leave the set to go?
The answer was a series of deeply misguided covers. Rodriguez simply doesn’t have the voice for either I Only Have Eyes For You nor Unchained Melody. In the latter, I guessed the kids in the three piece band couldn’t play it either, because mainly they watched him. In fact, playing solo definitely suits his style and manner. As does chatting to the audience. He’s loveable. He chats well. He has wry humor … he said the lyrics to Sugar Man are ‘descriptive, not prescriptive.’ I thought at this point, ‘I’d far, far rather see him play solo with guitar OR with a first rate band, The Dap Kings, perhaps.’ In fact, given his visual difficulties, I would have had a guitar stool, and given him more space to engage with the audience.
Then we got a lacklustre Lucille and a flabby Blue Suede Shoes. At last year’s Juke Box Fair I watched a semi-pro rock & roll band do both in the coffee area with stand-up bass and crisp drummer. They would have blown Rodriguez and his pick-up band right off the stage. None of the covers had anything to say … Love Me Or Leave Me, Fever though I did like Learning The Blues and the closing third encore I’m Gonna Live Until I Die. Maybe that’s because the originals are less imprinted on me. I would have preferred all Rodriguez originals. However, if you are going to cover jazzy standards, it must occur that two guitars, bass and drums is simply inadequate. To repeat, if it were voice and solo guitar you’d think ‘bold attempt at a simple version of a big standard.’ But a thin rock band? It’s completely wrong. As a minimum requirement, he needs a keyboard player who can switch between piano (for the standards) and synth to boost the original songs somewhere reminiscent of those 1970 / 1971 productions. One really good guy as MD / keyboards, and then he might get away with picking up electric guitar, drums and bass locally. Go back though and listen to Bob Babbitt’s bass playing on Cold Fact. It’s SO important. Dennis Coffey has said Rodriguez wasn’t a team player, and basically back in 1970 they recorded him with voice and guitar and added the rest later. They did it extremely well. I reckon you do it as Rodriguez originally conceived it solo in the clubs OR you make more effort with the backing.
On those original songs, there were some unusual ones. To Whom It May Concern and Street Boy from the second album were unexpected, and also welcome. I knew he likes to do You’d Like To Admit It, the original 1967 B–side to I’ll Slip Away (issued as “Rod Riguez”) but it’s on neither album and only obtainable on YouTube. It was the first encore. Great song. It deserves more attention.
He went down a storm. The audience loved him. I’d give his performance 2 out of 5, and the backing band 1 out of 5. I feel bad about that, but however much I wanted to love his set, and I really did, he varied between mediocre and poor. It was the first night. Maybe tomorrow the band will know it all better. I conclude he needs a strong musical director to curate and organize his set, throwing out nearly all those weakly done covers. He needs a more experienced and more flexible band. He needs a strong MD.
SEE ALSO my article on Rodriguez on the Toppermost website (and comment on the article rather than the review, there)
Before the show: From Chloe Charles’ Facebook page
Here is Chloe Charles’s set list last night (Thanks to Evelyn: see below)
Find your Way
Soon On A Snowflake
God is a Toad
So Far Away
The third support act in a year that was better than the headliner. Canadian singer-songwriter Chloe Charles played acoustic guitar and sang, accompanied by keyboards and viola.
Her reviews compare her to Joni Mitchell. We heard more of Tony Childs with a touch of Kate Bush. We bought the album in the interval (a sensible £10), which sadly does not include a truly wonderful cover of Carole King’s So Far Away.
It’s hard to get a set list from the recall the next day, but playing the CD today, I had the impression she did the first four tracks (wrong, see below, but she did play three of the first four). She has a trademark use of vocalization as an instrument (which Laurie Anderson used too).
This section is revised thanks to Evelyn who sent in a corrected set list. I played the album all the next day, and was sure about Business and Find Your Way and remembered the introduction to My Child, but it’s such a strong and memorable album. We were delighted that we bought it, and she was the true “find” of the evening.