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Tribute perfect cure for establishment blues

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TO NDR Barry thomson

GK Forrester

MAESTRO: Barry Thomson displays his guitar skills in Cold Fact, a tribute to Rodriguez, running in Durban.

CAST: Barry Thomson, Dawn Selby, Mali Sewell and Jason Andrews
VENUE: The Rhumbelow Theatre
UNTIL: Sunday
RATING: ****


PERFORMING for the first time at the Rhumbelow Theatre in Umbilo, guitar maestro Barry Thomson and The Reals – Dawn Selby, Mali Sewell and Jason Andrews – celebrate the music of Rodriguez.

Best known for his iconic album, Cold Fact, Rodriguez’s career was at first a brief one with just Cold Fact and Coming from Reality released in the 1970s. He was largely unknown in the US but enjoyed quite a cult following in South Africa – unbeknown to him.

It was the Academy Award-winning South African documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, that unexpectedly revived Rodriguez’s career and guaranteed that he got his dues.

In South Africa, his music has been a large part of the country’s culture, with his songs resonating with those who were anti-apartheid.

And it’s not hard to see why.

Listening to Rodriguez’s lyrics, you can hear that he was more a poet/activist than a musician, with his lyrics taking an anti-establishment slant and being very much for the people and against the “man”.

Performing a tribute show to an artist like Rodriguez has nothing to do with fancy sets, frills, props or costumes – it should be all about the music. And this is exactly what Thomson and The Reals bring to the table.

Celebrating Rodriguez’s music in its purest form, this group are at home on stage and with the audience and this show seems more like a few friends (on and off stage) hanging out, jamming and taking a trip down memory lane to the music of Rodriguez.

With a playlist of folk, rock and psychedelic rock hits from Rodriguez’s two mentioned albums, this local act were a hit from start to finish with every song receiving prolonged applause from the sold- out audience.

From songs like Establishment Blues and Sugar Man off Cold Fact, to some songs off Coming from Reality – which was actually not released in South Africa in the 1970s – the audience found it hard to stay in their seats or not sing along.

Listening to those songs, it was actually quite interesting to hear how, although written so many years ago, they are still so relevant today.

In between the songs Thompson engaged the audience with some facts about Rodriguez and how he was more of a poet than a musician who was all about the music. And that even after the documentary was made and he received what had been owed to him after all these years, he opted to give it all away.

This gives you more insight into the man behind the music. The experience of who this artist is at heart is emphasised even more with key snippets of the documentary played between the songs. These allow you to experience Rodriguez’s humble personality first-hand and they create an even stronger appreciation of him as an artist activist.

Thompson was upfront in saying they are not Rodriguez impersonators, and don’t intend to sound like him or look like him; instead, their intention is to play his music as best they can and pay tribute to the artist.

I think perhaps Rodriguez’s humility rubbed off on the group because they really did play better than their best in this show.

Thomson, Sewell and Andrews are a hit on vocals and their respective instruments (guitar, drums and bass); Selby is great on the keys.

Each of these musicians is extremely talented, with Thomson’s guitar skills a highlight. But that said, it took a great team to pull off a show like this and The Reals are that team.

A well-deserved double encore and standing ovation.


• Cold Fact ends Sunday at the Rhumbelow Theatre. Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm and 6.30pm. R100 at Computicket or call 031 205 7602.

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