Rodrigo y Gabriela
Aug. 6, 2014
The near capacity crowd roared its approval - not the first or last time they would throughout the acoustic instrumental duo's lyrical and galloping set.
The longtime couple - they met as teenagers at a Mexico City Youth Center, and only recently broke off dating in 2012 - retained a tight musical connection onstage. Opener "Torito," from their newest album 9 Dead Alive, set the tone. Playing their favored Yahama NX-series guitars, Rodrigo's tumbling, chiming melody circled Gabriella Quintero's pummeling fretboard runs and rat-a-tat percussion pounded out on her guitar top.
Their interplay packed the punch expected from a pair of former heavy metal players, and married it to the precision of Rodrigo's cyclical figures and pointillist arpeggios. (Unlike most nylon-stringers, Rodrigo plays with a pick). Gabriella's percussive rhythms and counter melodies were both revelation and adrenaline rush. She played every part of her guitar, hammering, slapping and snapping the instrument's back and sides, tapping the strings and running her hands up the neck for a rattlesnake rasp.
Much has been made of the flamenco influence on RyG's music, particularly the more Spanish-tinged tunes like the climbing, coruscating "Diablo Rojo." While Gabriella's raucous rhythms recalled flamenco's golpes - the genre's signature hand and finger taps - her approach owed more to thrash metal runs and drum fills.
For his part, Rodrigo's riffs and leads rode over a solid foundation of blues-based rock 'n' roll. As if to prove RyG's love of the blues, Rodrigo spun out a slithery, Mississippi delta beer bottle slide over the duo's chugging metronomic take on Metallica's "Orion." "Soundmaker," dedicated to the father of the modern guitar Antonio de Torres Jurado, boasted a stampeding melody that recalled the rock-based cues of Spaghetti Western soundtrack maestro Ennio Morricone.
Throughout the virtuosic and crowd-pleasing set, video cameras captured RyG's nimble fretwork - alternately ratcheting, romantic and razor sharp - and projected the images larger than life behind the duo.
Bold black and red animation, depicting African village life and the horrors of the slave trade, whirled behind the guitarists during "Misty Moses", a composition inspired by abolitionist Harriet Tubman. The tune, fittingly heartfelt and heroic, built on Rodrigo's chiming harmonics. Spinning out on Gabriella's cantering cadences, "Moses" boomeranged back full circle like a snake swallowing its tail.
The evening's performance - rarefied yet giddy with exhilaration - made space for solo turns by each player. Rodrigo's spotlight kicked off with a muscular chugging rocker before shifting into knotty runs which rippled like water.
After praising the crowd for their "fantastic vibe" Gabriela unleashed a wave of vibes herself, spinning out a serpentine excursion where her acoustic mimicked a wah wah-pedaled electric. Plucked and percolating, her riffs turned warm, bubbling and funky. Finishing with a flourish, she raised her guitar over her head.
When RyG first teamed up more than 20 years ago, they made a conscious decision to only play instrumental music. So the Fillmore set took a surprising turn when Rodrigo, accompanied by his and Gabriela's guitars, started to sing! Urging the crowd to join in, Rodrigo started - but never quite finished - a series of covers, including Stone Temple Pilots' "Plush" and version of Pink Floyd's "Breathe" with the intriguing new lyrics "I forgot the fucking words." Just when it seemed certain that the covers were a good natured goof, the duo launched into Radiohead's "Creep". Both players and audience were transported by the performance, which was unguarded, openhearted and eerie.
"I'd like to dedicate this last one to our crew," Gabriella said. "We're like a family and we've been together for years." With that, the duo launched into the spiraling, locomotive chug of encore "Tamacun." Gabriela hopped up and down and whirled with abandon as Rodrigo peeled off diamond hard riffs.
Rodrigo and Gabriela's interplay and non-verbal communication seemed inspired - almost otherworldly - as their guitars coiled and spun instrumental webs. Here, as with several other times throughout the set, both RyG closed their eyes as serene, beatific expressions crossed their faces. Having the time of their lives, Rodrigo y Gabriela seemed lost in the music, channeling - as Rodrigo might put it - some serious fucking magic.