LIVE: Rodrigo y Gabriela, Shepherd’s Bush Empire 02/11/10
Día de los Muertos. In Mexico it’s a time of year to remember friends and family members who have died, and a time for celebration. A fitting time, then, to see Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero kick off the European leg of their tour, with a sold out five night residency at the Shepherds Bush Empire (where they’d previously played three sold out shows in 2007)
Their last studio album 11:11, released in September 2009, is their celebration of and tribute to some of the musicians (some of whom are no longer with us) who have inspired them on their own journey.
Support in the UK comes from the Alex Skolnick Trio. Alex quit Testament in the early 90s in search of artistic fulfilment and turned his focus to jazz; finding success with a number of projects and collaborations, and also reuniting with Testament in 2005. Tonight’s short instrumental set included renditions of KISS classic ‘Detroit Rock City’ and Judas Priest’s ‘Electric Eye’ – sadly they only played for about half an hour; I was warmed up and ready to hear more.
Previous Rod Y Gab gigs I’ve been to have had them perched on simple stools on an almost empty stage, but tonight there was more of a ‘set’ feel to the Empire’s stage with leather seats cushions and wooden screens giving a cosy contrast to the stark ‘11:11 album cover backdrop. The duo walked on stage at around 9pm to loud cheers from the crowd and wordlessly started playing. Within a couple of minutes it strikes you that their sound is far bigger than you would expect an acoustic guitar duo to be able to produce (at this point I should probably confess my own shameful lack of technical knowledge, so if you’re interested in finding out about technique, buy a live DVD or watch some of their many clips on YouTube!).
After the first three tracks (including the Pink Floyd- inspired ‘11:11’) and ‘Ixtapa’ from first album ‘Rodrigo y Gabriela’, the pair greeted the audience, explaining that they didn’t plan their setlists a long time in advance and liked to change things up. Often I see bands that are choreographed and rehearsed to within an inch of their lives, and it’s refreshing to see a gig where the musicians are so completely in sync with each other. The musical chemistry that they has is captivating, and the spontaneity just adds to their appeal. During one break between songs Gabriela said that they are often asked if they still practice a lot, and explained that between trying to come up with new things all the time and touring, they are usually playing at least four hours per day. Their clear love of performance shines throughout the set, with Gabriela literally bouncing around as she plays, and both of them showing their heavy metal origins with a bit of rock posturing,and smiling and grinning at each other throughout.
Rodrigo brought Alex Skolnick back on as their special guest on ‘Atman’, introducing him with a grin and the words ‘For those of you who don’t know about metal, you fuckin’ should!’ , before explaining that Alex played on the track (inspired by Dimebag Darrell) on ‘11:11’.
They went on to say that when they went to see bands when they were younger, as guitarists they always wanted to hear the solos exactly as they were played and didn’t enjoy it when people deviated from the solos played on the album – no pressure there then, Alex!
Musically the show was amazing (Latin guitar and heavy metal are a powerful combination), and visually it was well thought out – the simple 11:11 backdrop was soon replaced with something more colourful. White spotlights followed both guitarists around, and later in the set black and white camera shots were projected live onto a white backdrop cloth, showing close-ups of the pair playing filmed from a low angle, giving those further back a chance to see their technique properly. Both guitarists had solo sections that had jaws dropping around the venue.
The crowd participation was pretty impressive – at one point, with no words and just a few gestures, Rodrigo split the crowd into 3 and got each to clap a different beat. All the way up in the balconies people were dancing in their seats, caught up in the atmosphere.
This was a stunning show, which seemed to pass by in a flash- Rod y Gab left the stage to a standing ovation and my only regret as I left the Empire was that I didn’t have tickets for the next four nights.