August 10, 2014
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story of Rodrigo y Gabriela, it’s a common one – nothing new here. Stop me when it gets familiar.
Two Mexico City kids form a metal band, quit band, move to Dublin, Ireland and, in order to travel light, switch to acoustic guitar. Playing, as Gabriela explained to the crowd, “on the streets, in all sorts of pubs, weddings, and parties”. Many gave them advice. “You need to sing, you need a full band”. But it was in Dublin, of all places, that they decided to play what they wanted to play. It was there that they honed their unique blend of music, fusing classical Spanish guitar, flamenco, folk and modern rock without losing the energy from their early metal days. And it was there that somehow they became an international sensation, by doing it their own way.
It’s a success story that’s taken them all the way to the White House to play a state dinner at the invitation of President Obama. Oh, what? You haven’t heard a story like this one before? Well, that’s my “Cliff Notes” version. For the whole story you’ll need to catch the new documentary, For Those About To Rock, which chronicles the formation and early beginnings of the duo. It made its debut at Austin’s South by Southwest festival earlier this year and is still playing festivals before arriving on DVD soon.
Last Wednesday, Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero played their first performance in Charlotte at NC Music Factory’s Fillmore. For a venue that was only half full at 7:50 p.m., the room filled up nicely. It was still easy to get close except for the few faithful who were white knuckling the stage barricade.
After a quick set by Belgium singer/songwriter, Milow, who won the room over with clever lyrics and personal charm, the Fillmore had filled to near capacity. After a quick stage set up, the lights went down precisely at 9:00 p.m. For an acoustic show, the stage was understandably bare. Two microphones, four 3x3x3 blocks, stage lights and a back drop used primarily to highlight Rodrigo y Gabriela’s incredible finger work on the strings of their guitars. However, while minimal they use the stage to full effect.
If your assumption of the evening was an acoustic guitar duo sitting on stools, center stage for a laid back evening of quiet, relaxing music, well, think again. They took advantage of every inch of space; Gabriela hopping up and down in place and spinning in circles and Rodrigo strutting from side to side, and then taking a firm heavy metal stance as he peered out over the crowd. Gabriela’s expressions would switch from absolute delight to a look of complete meditation in the blink of an eye.
The duo started by diving into two songs from their recent album, 9 Dead Alive. A conceptual album that Gabriela explained to the crowd was composed of, “things that move us”. She spoke several times in between songs, always coming off a bit nervous. She laughed at herself often, for rambling and, at one point had to stop and admit that she had forgotten her point altogether. Gabriela had the audience hanging on every carefully chosen word. Like when she described the first song ‘Torito’ as a tribute to nature and animals, “Because I am a hippy”.
Their music was the star, but their charm and humor delighted the crowd all evening. The second song, ‘Sound Maker’ had Rodrigo dividing the audience into three sections each clapping a different cadence. Left side, “clap, clap, clap”, the middle, “clap”, then the right side, “clap, clap”.
At the midway point of the show, Rodrigo led the crowd in what turned out to be a rather comedic, but entirely entertaining sing along. He started with Stone Temple Pilots, ‘Plush’. Through an eruption of cheers the crowd jumped in head first.
“And I see that time’s a wasted a go/so where ya going to tomorrow. And I see that…bla, blum, bla, bla, blah – nervous laughter, this time from the crowd as everyone realizes that no one is quite sure of the words. Rodrigo takes over.
Next Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Breaking the girl. Same thing- eruption….first couple of words…I am a man cut from the know…. blaaaah blah blah blah. Rodrigo stops, “The fucking idea is to sing along. I’m not a fucking singer!” More laughter and cheers lead him to ask what we would like to sing. He heard Metallica rather quickly and jumped into Symphony of Destruction, this time not waiting for the crowd to catch up with the lyrics.
The duos early love of metal and Metallica, most notably, was represented again later with their cover of Orion, which was originally recorded for their debut album. “R- What next?” He points to the only seated section in the house, the VIP area to the left of the stage as he picks the next song, “Think of that crowd” and breaks into Pink Floyd’s ‘Breath’. The familiarity even got a gentleman in the VIP area to stand for the first and only time of the evening. The sing-a-long wrapped up with ‘Creep’, from Radiohead, which was probably the most recognized, at least lyrically, of the bunch and the only one played fully.
Ninety minutes after the lights dimmed, they finished off with ‘Tamacun’, the first track from their debut album. A song also used effectively in the first episode of Breaking Bad. A truly dazzled crowd waved good bye to their new heroes as AC/DC’s ‘For Those About to Rock’ blared away over the sound system.
As an early fan, I’ve waited some time to get a chance to try to figure out how just two guitars can produce such an incredible sound. After witnessing it first hand, I don’t know that I’m any closer to knowing how they make that much magic, but it was fun watching them pull the strings.