Friday, August 15, 2014

Latin guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela's ringing rhythms rumble Ryman

There's this part during Rodrigo y Gabriela's packed to the rafters show at Ryman Auditorium where the Rodrigo is unmercifully tearing through the climactic final guitar solo from "The Soundmaker," the lead single from their latest album 9 Dead Alive. As Gabriela leaps in excitement beside him, the energy in the room builds to a fever pitch and seems almost enough to take the roof off the place. A brilliant wash of auburn light suddenly illuminates the stage at the precise moment he finishes. And they were just getting started.

Rodrigo y Gabriela dazzles the crowd with carefully crafted melody.

The twosome, consisting of Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriella Quintero, hail from Mexico City but had to journey to Ireland before finding success with their self titled album in 2006. Their sound is heavily steeped in the great traditions of Spanish guitar style, but also borrows heavily from Rodrigo's experience as a heavy metal guitarist. For over 90 minutes, they wowed the crowed with almost purely instrumental play. Mini cameras were hooked up onto the head of their guitars so as to capture the insanity of their lightning fast finger movements and relay it to the big screen. 

Just as impressive though, is how varied a repertoire they're able to create with only two acoustic guitars. Cuts like "Fram" and "The Russian Messenger" from 9 Dead Alive are a little more dialed back and atmospheric, gently pulling the listener in with a swirling confection of strings. "Hanuman," on the other hand, hits you in the face like a hand grenade and never lets up. Its breathless spontaneity and in your face nature is highly indicative of the style of traveling street performers, which Gabreila explained they once were.

And what street performers they must have been! As this tune unfolded  it was easy to envision the palm trees, majestic fountains, and palatial resort hotels rising in the distance.  But of course, we couldn't escape without a little heavy metal influence, provided with a cover of Metallica's breathtaking "Orion." They may have lacked the electric amplifiers, but their performance gave you no less of a desire to pump your fist into the air.

Although Rodrigo sizzled with his lead work, Gabriela's rhythm playing was nothing short of nuts. She eschewed a pick in favor of a four finger picking style that looks like something you would see a bass player do. But when you consider she does it with six strings instead of four it's even more insane. She'll also drum a beat on the side of her guitar or over the sound hole and incorporate that into the rhythm parts she plays on guitar. It's one of the most unique styles of playing the instrument I've ever seen, and seems nearly impossible to replicate perfectly.

Coloruful backdrops added a Southwestern flair to the group's set.

Also great was a segment midway through the set where the duo performed a series of cover songs, mostly just pulling a short snippet out of each song. Rodgrio began playing Stone Temple Pilots' "Plush" on guitar, then motioned for the stage hand to bring out a microphone for what Gabriella termed as his karaoke set. He quickly ran through "Breaking the Girl" from The Red Hot Chili Peppers and "Symphony of Destruction" from Megadeth -- which sadly no one seemed to recognize -- before finally ending up with Radiohead's "Creep," which drew massive ovation from the audience. His voice was fine, but afterward did acknowledge that he doesn't sing much. "Don't go upload it to Youtube," he joked.

They had a lot to live up to, as opening act Milow absolutely killed it. The Belgian acoustic guitar duo delivered gorgeous vocal harmonies, while lead man Jonathan Vandenbroeck showed off great presence and a wonderful sense of humor. Near the end he did a song that he wrote as an advance apology to his guitarist for when he becomes famous and forgets all about him. He also made a few cracks about Belgium's soccer win over the U.S. in the World Cup, but after what they did for their final song I think we can forgive him.

For their set closer, they wanted to take advantage of the Ryman acoustics and perform a little closer to the crowd, so they stepped out from behind their mics and edged right up to the front of the stage. The crowd went silent as a pin drop as their unamplified voices and acoustic guitar sliced through the stillness of the Ryman air. It was one of the most beautiful moments I have witnessed in that building. 

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