Three years ago, I noted that one of the most exciting moments of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s concert was when the Mexican guitar slayers left their accompanying musicians in the background, and took center stage to melt faces and rock bodies with their breakneck-pace blend of Latin-meets-thrash nuevo flamenco. I was excited to see the extra depth and complexity that C.U.B.A. added to their pieces, but ultimately I had missed the mesmerizing speed and magnificent chemistry that was so utterly more palpable when the two were playing solely off of each other. With their most recent tour, in support of their fourth album 9 Dead Alive, Rodrigo y Gabriela have returned to their solo takeover of the stage, and brought with them an astonishing level of energy and joyous camaraderie that is remarkable to behold.
An important distinction needs to be pointed out for this show, versus the first two times that I witnessed Rodrigo y Gabriela live in concert. While they’re definitely at the top of their game in terms of rhythm, speed, and seamlessly being able to slip extra bits into their pieces (the short but exciting journey into “Stairway To Heaven” during “Diablo Rojo” comes to mind), this was the first time that the pair were fully realizing their roles as the main act of the evening with an awestruck audience to perform for. Past shows have seen the two sitting on chairs and playing steadily with tremendous concentration etched across their faces; gone are those days, and while there are moments where either musician will twist themselves inward as their hands move deftly across their guitars in a furious crescendo, nearly all of their songs saw them leaping back and forth, raising their instruments skyward, or hurtling into the spotlights at the edge of the stage, thrashing about before their ecstatic fans. There’s no denying that Rodrigo y Gabriela are rock stars, and they had finally seemed to realize it themselves.
One of the biggest thrills of the show came immediately after the second song of the night, “Diablo Rojo”, when Rodrigo Sánchez came forward to address the crowd and informed them that they would completely ignore their posted setlist in favor of requests — particularly those of songs they could cover. After many stunned roars of approval, the pair launched into “Back In Black” and proceeded to tear through a set of thrash classics: Megadeth’s “Holy Wars”, Metallica’s “Battery”, and their own excellent cover of “Orion” by the San Francisco metal gods, as well. While they did actually seem to stick to a lot of their listed schedule overall, they freely leaped into short bursts of song between couplets of their own work, sending ripples of excited laughter and applause through the crowd as they recognized each one.
After a solid chunk of songs, the pair invited their onlookers onto the stage, and a horde of twenty hardcore fans crawled their way up to dance, clap, and cheer their idols along as they continued to crank through song after song. The long-standing attendance of the fans onstage seemed to confuse a few people — they were kept onstage for nearly a full half hour — but their energy added to the ever-increasing fervor of the show itself. Once the crowd had departed and the duo were again left to themselves, Rodrigo showcased his vocal talents in the form of a gorgeous, graceful cover of Radiohead’s “Creep”, with Gabriela leading the audience in doing “The Wave” gently back and forth before providing accompaniment. It was a rather beautiful breath of fresh air in the firestorm that had been most of the show thus far, and the audience was absolutely enamored with Rodrigo’s singing.
There are few performers today that, to me, offer a show that is both incredibly entertaining and filled to bursting with absolutely marvelous musicianship. It is far too often that the songwriting can take a back seat to the stage show, or vice versa, and Rodrigo y Gabriela deliver both tenfold. Whether drenched in shimmering strobes or awash in deep red light hues, they leap and twist and hurtle about their stage with all of the poise of seasoned rock veterans, and their playing does not suffer one bit from any of their antics. Both their original pieces and meticulously-recrafted covers are wondrous to behold; hearing them melt between the two with a practiced ease is even more stunning. I am extremely grateful to have seen these two performing again, and to have seen their growth over the past years, both as songwriters and as live performers, and I am terribly excited to see what they will come up with next.
Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2015 Jonathan Pirro.