Rodrigo y Gabriela at Denver's Buell Theater
September 19, 2009
Who knew you could wring so much out of a couple acoustic guitars? At the Buell Theater, Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quinetro attacked their instruments in a manner that had the audience wondering whether the delicate wood would survive, or at the least, stay in tune. The guitars did stay in tune and the result was a sound far beyond what two humans are typically capable of making.
The music is all instrumental and, at its core, is Latin based. But that's just the start. Rodrigo and Gabriela got their start playing heavy metal in their native Mexico. They unplugged, moved to Ireland and created a Latin-based, acoustic, flamenco sound covering heavy metal tunes. It's not just a unique concept, it's executed with virtuosic precision.
Rodrigo Sanchez generally plays lead guitar. His lightning runs mix flamenco, jazz, Latin and blues. At one point he played a solo that sounded like a Latin version of a Clementi sonatinathrough a wah-wah pedal. After all, what good is a Latinized classical piece without a touch of Jimi Hendrix?
As good as Rodrigo is however, it's Gabriela Quinetro that makes their music work. Whereas Rodrigo focuses mostly on single note runs, guitar hero style, she's primarily responsible for the rhythm. And that doesn't mean just strumming a few chords. She treats the acoustic guitar as much as a percussion instrument as a string instrument, maybe more so. She'll slap the body of the guitar with the palm of her hand for a bass drum sound or rap it with her knuckles for a higher pitched, tom-tom like sound.
And she'll do all that while pounding out power chords. This is the kind of performance that is much more interesting to see live than simply hearing on a recording because the technique is so unusual. Often, she appears to be using the backs of the fingernails of her right hand balled up in a fist to hit the chord, then she opens her hand for the percussive effects then closes it again for the next chord. All that can happen several times a second.
The audience assisted in the percussion often spontaneously clapping along, other times egged on by the band. A few times, Rodrigo assigned different rhythms to different parts of the hall. It worked: the stereo effect was lifelike.
Their debut album, just called Rodrigo y Gabriel (Rubyworks, 2007) sold over a half million copies and helped propel the group not only to popularity, but to financial success as well. The financial success part was apparent Saturday night with the lighting and video display. Multiple overhead, on stage and back-of-the-stage lights gave the proceedings a bit of a rock show ambience, as did the edgy live video projected on the giant screen behind the guitarists. From the balcony, the video was a real plus, revealing the intricate fingerwork in close-up detail.
The stage setup had two chairs, but Rodrigo rarely used his. He roamed the stage, sometimes kneeling, sometimes sitting on the edge of the riser the chairs were on. Sometimes he went to the front of the stage where his pedals were set up and sometimes he struck the classic guitar slinger pose with legs apart, pointing the neck toward the audience. Gabriela remained seated for the most part, but got up and moved around toward the end of the show.
Much the material for Saturday night's show was from their second and latest album 11:11 (ATO Records, 2009), which was released in early September. The album is a tribute to some of their favorite musicians; ones that have had a strong influence on them over the years. The list actually provides an accurate ingredient list of their sonic stew: Carlos Santana
Speaking of Zeppelin, one of the more popular tunes on Rodrigo y Gabriela's first album was their cover of "Stairway to Heaven." They performed that Saturday night as part of their encore, but they had rearranged it so radically, the main theme was only barely and occasionally recognizable. They finished with their big hit, "Tamacun," from their debut album. By that time, the sold out crowd in the usually staid Buell was on its feet crowding the aisles to get closer to the band and their irresistible energy.