Sunday, December 23, 2007

Rodrigo y Gabriela in Glasgow 12/11/07

Next up in today’s concert twofer is the acoustic latin-metal duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. These guys have been making a lot of noise this year promoting their self-titled album at every festival the summer season has to offer, and wowing at every stop. Having missed them at Bonnaroo myself, I made up for it at a stop at Glasgow’s Barrowlands.

Unannounced, at least as far as I’d seen on the ticket or the website, David Ford opened the show in memorable fashion. He came on with one woman and about a dozen instruments, and proceeded to loop his way through the opening song. He started out shaking maracas, recording that and looping it over and over as he played a simple piano riff a couple times, adding that loop on top. Loop after loop was added, with him doing four-part harmonies with himself, as he sang overtop. The woman did the same thing on her violin throughout the song, so that the two people ended up with a cacophony of virtual instruments by the song’s end. He only did this for about half his songs, but creatively enough that it became more than a gimmick.

The songs he did not use the loops for, but just performed solo on piano or acoustic guitar, were distinctly less memorable. “Poetic” lyrics came off as pretentious, as he tried to create a more modern Tom Waits vibe without the weirdness. The exception to the rule was his State of the Union, a political song more about general necessities of the political sphere than any specifics o
f today, but featured the memorable lines “With friends like these, well who needs politicians?” and “Come on Jesus Christ, come back, all is forgiven.” Given that he’s from East Sussex, it’s unclear whether he’s talking about America, Britain, both, or neither. It works for all of the above.

It’s hard to describe Rodrigo y Gabriela. There have been a lot of catchy phrases tossed around, like latin-metal, flamenco-funk, or acoustic-thrash, but none of them really get at the heart of the duo. It’s simply two people from Mexico playing instrumentals on nylon-stringed guitars that somehow makes you feel like you’re at a Metallica concert.

Taking to the stage, they exuded a poise and humility that contrasted with the flashing and swooping lights, loud opening music, and wild visuals behind them. Throughout the show close-up videos of their hands playing were taken by two tiny remote-controlled cameras by each of them and broadcast on the screen behind them. Being able to seeing their flying fingers, especially Gabriela’s blur of a hand strumming and thumping her furious rhythm guitar, but the camera delay just couldn’t keep up with the speed at which they were playing. Regardless though, the many visuals helped keep a show that I thought would get boring – two people sitting on chairs playing guitar – engaging up to the last minute.

The main credit for that, however, goes to the duo themselves. Through incredible playing and medleys very different than their albums, they kept the audience focused by guessing what they would do next. A setlist would be difficult to figure no matter how familiar one was with the word-free songs, because of how the different melody lines would weave in and out of each other, throwing in snatches of unrecorded songs and unexpected covers, like Seven Nation Army, Smoke on the Water, the James Bond theme song, and, I think, Norwegian Wood. It was only towards the end that they began to mix things up and move around, as one or the other took a well-deserved break. Rodrigo turned out to be a dynamic frontman in the few instances he used it, strutting the stage while playing and organizing the crowd into a three-part cheer to lead into their cover of Metallica’s Orion. A little more opportunity to express this charisma would benefit the show, though perhaps overshadow Gabriela’s quieter demeanor.

A live highlight in each show is a crowd singalong of Wish You Were Here but, as they’re not actually doing much on guitar for it, it is much less impressive than their Stairway to Heaven (especially appropriate, being as it was a week before Led Zeppelin’s London reunion gig). It’s a song I can’t stand the original of, but once the pretentious lyrics and Plant’s crooning screeches are out of the picture, emerges as a nice tune that builds to a rocked-out frenzy.

Download a live show from 7/4/07 in Chicago:

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