Rodrigo y Gabriela


Generally I don’t know any of the music that is played before gigs – it’s just one of those things for me. The bands that I like all seem to play obscure indie that I have never heard of. But tonight is different; Rodrigo and Gabriela like rock music. The ambient music before their set is Counting Crows, Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Rage Against the Machine… The track they play when the curtain goes up, the light show starts and to which they eventually make their entrance to is the entirety of Tool’s ‘The Pot’. If you don’t know it, it’s heavily syncopated, super-technical math-metal. It’s quite something to follow, especially when all you have is two acoustic guitars.

But Rodrigo y Gabriela don’t just follow it, they nail it. ‘The Russian Messenger’, from their new album 9 Dead Alive is heavy, tech and a showcase for the awesome talent of this pair. For those of you who (like me) are not overly familiar with Rodrigo y Gabriela, they are a Mexican duo, whose original material is purely instrumental. I would describe them in one sentence as “Tenacious D with all the irony, comedy and fat sucked out and replaced with raw flamenco-style talent”.

After the powerful introduction, Rodrigo grabs a mic and introduces the show – which they plan to do on an “interactive” basis. There’s no set list – we the audience just have to ‘be German’ – by which he means shout out for what we want. Someone wastes no time and requests ‘Orion’ – a Metallica cover. I can’t find a form of words to explain how cool it is to see this cover absolutely slammed by just two people, so you will just have to Google it, but apart from the vocals, it genuinely incorporates everything that you would expect to hear if you forced all of Metallica, including the drummer, to play this song using only acoustic guitars instead of their instruments – in some weird bastardisation of MTV Unplugged – except it’s just two people making all that sound! It’s an achievement.

Working out how to make an acoustic guitar sound like Lars Ulrich was admittedly a challenge for her, but I have never seen anyone produce such a range of percussive technique on a guitar as Gabriela. She’s like Eric Mongrain (or local boy Dan Melrose) on steroids. She’s a complete machine.

When she takes a stint on the mic, Gabriela talks to us about the pair’s history in Ireland, touring England and enjoying our ‘tropical’ climate. She also talks about their love of Metallica, and recounts how they recently jammed with Kirk Hammett – a big hero to her – and how he couldn’t remember the chords for his own songs. These little spoken interludes give a really nice genuine insight in to the people that we’re sharing a concert with, and it makes it a very friendly and personal experience.

Each of the two play a solo piece, and Gabriela’s solo is fantastic, what I would describe “bedroom funk”. No, I don’t mean in the blue movie sense; I mean it in the sense of “one person on their own, getting funky”. No, I don’t mean that – stop it. Shame on you. I mean “as funky as one person can be on an acoustic guitar, with no bass or drums to get things pumping”. It’s absolutely my kind of thing and Gabriela continues to go up and up in my estimation.


Rodrigo y Gabriela

Watching Rodrigo’s solo later, I begin to get a real feeling of how the two of them combine to make the music they make, and to create performances which are more than the sum of their impressive parts. Rodrigo is the flash, the icing on the cake, the stardust and sparkle – the quintessential lead guitarist, right down to the rock stance and skin-tight jeans. But on his own, he wouldn’t go places, he needs Gabriela to get him there, to give the tunes drive and momentum. They are the classic combination of the rock three piece – but with just two pieces.

During one of the spoken interludes, someone in the crowd complains about the late change to an all-seated format – something that Rodrigo admits that they’re not used to, but which he also responds to in a wonderful down-to-earth fashion by saying “well come on then; there’s all this space at the front… Why don’t you stand up and come up here?”. And when people do, he takes the first couple up on stage, sits them down and gets them to request a song. It’s a great moment of connection, and the atmosphere noticeably improves from that point onwards, culminating with hundreds of people out of their seats and on their feet, clapping and stamping their feet.

The one-time couple also take the time to raise awareness of the 43 missing student teachers, recently kidnapped after taking part in a protest in Iguala, Mexico – and who are probably just the tip of the iceberg; a tiny fraction of up to 20,000 people estimated to have simply vanished as part of a recent history of ever-escalating drug-related violence in Mexico. It’s bold, and admirable for a band to take time out of their show, and risk polarising or switching off their audience – but draws more attention to a problem which until recently was almost totally under the radar.

At one point when he is speaking to us, Rodrigo talks about how people pigeon hole Rodrigo y Gabriela as flamenco, and how if someone tells you to “go watch these Mexicans play flamenco” then you might be disappointed, because what they do is different – it’s not flamenco; it’s more metal and it’s very high-energy. He might be right, but not being familiar with them, knowing ‘Tamacun’, and one or two other songs, I honestly expected to come and watch flamenco, and I am absolutely blown away by what I have seen – regardless of what niche it does or doesn’t fit in to – especially the more mature stuff from their new album, including my new favourite, Fram. I am blown away by the originality of their sound, blown away by the quality and intensity of what they did, as well as also coming to feel a genuine liking for the two of them as people. I couldn’t ask for much more.

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Chris Oliver

I've been playing bass guitar and guitar for over half my life. I last played bass in in a band called Electromotive and as a singer-songwriter I have written songs about cheese and vajazzles (separate songs!). I started out listening to 60s, 70s and 80s rock as a kid and I was in to grunge and U.S. punk and ska in the 90s. Since then, I've broadened my tastes and I like the best of all styles of music, even country. I've been writing for Silent Radio since it started.