Rodrigo Y Gabriela
@ Shibuya Duo Music Exchange (30th Mar. '08)
Off The Beat'n Track
Before I came here, my friends told me it doesn't rain in Tokyo. I call bullshite on them! It rarely stops in my opinion! I come from a country where its bordering on an offense to use an umbrella. We will run through the rain in an effort to stay dry, getting all the wetter. Those of us cool enough will saunter through, looking like we don't care, and all the while cursing the heavens above.
On a miserable night, I donned my umbrella, one of the \500 cheapies that I collected somewhere along the way (I refuse to pay for umbrellas, it's a moral stance I take) and headed out for Rodrigo y Gabriela's first ever show in Japan. It was looking like a good night to stay home, but since I was actually mid way through relocating abodes, anything to get me out of the house. Arriving at Shibuya Duo I found a full house, testament to the duo that were set to perform there on this Sunday eve. These guys have travelled a long way to be here, getting their foot in the door playing in thrash metal band Tierra Acida in Mexico City, traveling to us via Dublin where the duo are now based, as well as struggling through just about anywhere you'd care to name in continental Europe along the way. A long story in between the starting point an this evening's performance, these two got their act together, so to speak, like so many others: out of sheer necessity. Finding themselves penniless after the move to an unexpectedly less-welcoming-than-planned Dublin, busking was their only immediate means of survival.
It was here that they honed their style, Gabriela finding in her acoustic guitar the necessary percussive tool to put on a great show, and Rodrigo perfecting his super fast strumming. This style sets them apart from anything most of us have heard before. Lots of Spanish influence... Just don't call their style Flamenco! While there are similarities, there is a lot more than that here, simply applying this label would do the pair a grave injustice.
They started the show seated, as Gabriela remained for most of the performance. Rodrigo likes to move around more, and is certiainly the more expressive of the two on stage. There is a lot of eye contact as they do their thing, with little other communication between them at the start. Gabriela made a welcome speech after a few pieces, reading from her notes in Japanese, making a good go of it. Rodrigo was less outgoing on this regard, musing at first on whether to use Spanish, English or Japanese, eventually settling for English. Starting their set out with some funky sounds, they showed the presence that has brought them more fame that most buskers deserve, but we're left knowing that these guys certainly do. Rodrigo likes to involve the crowd a lot, getting them involved in the percussive experience. He had us broken up into three separate sections, adding a further element to the song as Gabriela nearly melts into her guitar.
Rodrigo notes that their shows are ever evolving, and that the songs they play rarely stay the same as it "gets too boring after a few days." Their tune 'Fuck The US Visa Dept', a reference to the pre US tour visa problems Rogrigo experienced starts out as not quite the angry musical diatribe you might expect, but builds into a frenzied crescendo worthy of its name. Rodrigo is frequently up to rev up the crowd, pronouncing Pink Floyd as boring before rousing a noteworthy lyrical performance by a member of the crowd on Wish You Were Here. Just one of a series of raucous covers that included what could be described as a set of busking standards, including Smoke On The Water and of course that one everybody is trying to play "RodGab style" on YouTube, Stairway To Heaven. It seems that the first song that almost everyone tries to play when they first pick up a guitar has now become the tune of choice for those trying to emulate these two unique musicians. It's become somewhat of a signature tune for them.
The original compositions kept coming peppered with interesting treatments of covers. The White Stripes featured, but my personal favorite was Take Five, the Dave Brubeck Quartet classic. A timeless piece, it had new life breathed into it by RodGab, starting out nice and gentle and growing into a frenzy of guitar from Rodrigo. Some of their quieter tracks had me mindful of The Tea Party's non-vocal pieces, with complex structures achieved with a many fewer instruments. This style was born out of necessity; there was simply no-one else there to help them out, so it all had to be done by the two of them. They made do with what they had at hand, testament to the much more complex guitar involved in thrash and death metal than in your standard rock.
The pair announced mid show that they would be back with us in July to play all three days of Fuji Rock. If you missed them this week you're well advised to get up to Naeba for the weekend, as they will be one of the highlights of the weekend for anyone who is there I'm sure. Here is a duo that prove that there are new and interesting things to be found in the world of rock music.
To top it all off, I emerged to an empty umbrella bin. Yes, that's right, my (stolen) umbrella had been stolen. Well, the joke's on you buddy, that brolly had more holes than a political promise. And I could use some cooling off after a show like that anyway!