Imagine the luminous poetry of Bob Dylan, the restless musicality of Joni Mitchell and the unflinching political vision of John Lennon, all wrapped up into one veteran Cuban songwriter who sings with the passion of a burning star. At 63, with 20 albums and a 40-year career to his credit, Latin American icon Silvio Rodriguez has nothing left to prove. And yet — or maybe because of that — his rare Los Angeles performance at the Gibson stood as one of the most emotional and inspiring Latin shows this city has experienced in years.
The concert was part of Rodriguez’s much anticipated U.S. tour — his first one in three decades. Earlier this month, he played a sold-out gig at Carnegie Hall.
A founder of the revolutionary minded late ’60s nueva trova movement, Rodriguez has written more than his share of leftist anthems. But to think of him as an artist motivated solely by politics would be painfully simplistic. Few songwriters in the Spanish language have explored the vicissitudes of romantic love and the inherent bittersweetness of the human experience with the poetry and perception of Rodriguez. Albums such as “Dias y Flores” (1975), “Mujeres” (1979) and the epic triple LP set “Triptico” (1984) showcase Latin pop at its most progressive and transcendental.
Thursday’s opening song, for instance, was “En El Claro De La Luna,” a haunting ballad steeped in unexpected melodic turns and Rodriguez’s knack for lyrics loaded with visual metaphors. The instrumental backing projected a delightful, homespun mood: a guitar trio, drums, and Rodriguez’s wife Niurka Gonzalez on flute and clarinet. Re-arranged with an almost Andean feel to it, nueva trova hymn “La Maza” became a joyous celebration of chant-along Latin folk.
At the core of the two-and-a-half-hour show was Rodriguez’s voice. Its owner may be looking a bit older these days, but the voice itself remains a prodigious instrument — wounded and defiant, solemn and playful, perennially nostalgic.
Towards the end of the concert, massive Rodriguez hits such as “Pequena Serenata Diurna” and the heart-wrenching “Unicornio” were received with fervor by the near capacity crowd. Forever imprinted in the collective consciousness of Latin culture, these songs of love and loss mark a level of creative grace that future troubadours can only aspire to.