buttonRodrigo Y Gabriela @ Shibuya AX (12th Nov. '08)

Sensational or Artistic: What Makes These Two So Special?

Rodrigo Y Gabriela
      I went into my first Rodrigo y Gabriela concert as a skeptic. I had the album, I'd heard the legend and they rave reviews, but I kept thinking it still might all be a gimmick, a couple of young virtuosos trendy and attractive enough to get hipster credit playing heavy metal songs, or might just be one of those explosions of a specific species of thing, like locust plagues or like in 5th grade when the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul area was inundated with a box elder bug population boom for the summer. Like playing popular music on trad instruments, the box elder bugs were always there from year to year, it just happened that one particular year was their time. It's purely statistical.

Rodrigo Y Gabriela      I've also seen a lot of people use the body of the acoustic guitar for percussion, a la Gabriela―there is practically a whole genre of acoustic guitar playing that's about rhythmically beating hell out of your acoustic guitar (often with the Ovation brand, the ones with the half-sphere black composite material bodies behind the wood soundboard, which take the beating quite well). But none of these people with their gimmick is famous now. Further, as good as they are (and they are great), there are surely thousands of as-good or superior Spanish guitarists around the world right now. So why are these two so famous?

      Someone I asked this question theorized that it was Gabriela. She is a real cutie, and much like the saxophonist for the Zutons or Veruca Salt, it ain't hurting the band one bit. To put it nicely, people definitely get tired of looking at sweaty dudes all the time at concerts. Could it really be that simple?

Rodrigo Y Gabriela      Tellingly, the music playing over the P.A. before the duo came on was Spanish guitar music, interesting and somewhat beyond the straight classical canon, much like a lot of R y G's output, but shortly before they took the stage, it switched to straight ahead throbbing hard rock. The show started with some tunes I didn't recognize, possibly originals. One of their claims to fame, a pretty straightforward take on Metallica's classic instrumental "Orion," was dispensed with pretty early on. I was disappointed they didn't even play the pretty part, but little did I know they were just warming up. What ‘parts' of the songs they played was to prove to be almost entirely beside the point.

Rodrigo Y Gabriela      About halfway through the show, I had been fading in and out as they noodled around with different tunes mixing Latin and hard rock elements, throwing in flashy arpeggios here, quoting a few lines of a classic rock riff like "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" there, or banging through a thrilling five-minute percussion jam at one point with Gabriela's bodhran-inspired wrist action. That's when it hit me why these two are indeed special: it's not so much the playing―anyone can get a cheer from whipping off lightning fast notes high on the fret board or a few bars of Seven Nation Army (the only iconic guitar riff of the 90's?) or from beating the crud out of their guitar―it's the choices the make, the flow of the show, and their personality. They are like a masterful DJ, or Jack White. It's not just the compositions they are playing and adapting, it's the entirety of the performance.

      Not every song they do has an ending; often, they just segue into the next song. Sometimes between tunes (and, as with Orion, sometimes it is only half a tune), they'll just noodle around for a bit as if they were in their bedroom zoning out as they picked random notes and riffs. Then slowly something will emerge from the chaos and it will build up into a grand climax before drifting off into more noodling. And when I say noodling, I don't mean the lame and boring kind of noodling you see in a free jazz musician. Those guys are often too constrained by their own technical ability or sense of propriety. Rodrigo y Gabriela are truly free as musicians, as free to be Eddie Van Halen as they are to be the Moldy Peaches, or whatever else strikes their fancy. So much so that I'm not even writing about the crush I have on Gabriela. That's not even close to the one of the top things they bring to the table (although for the last 20 minutes the muscular and sweaty Rodrigo played shirtless, so possibly I might be singing a different tune if my interests swung that way).

Rodrigo Y Gabriela      They are, quite simply, incredibly charming. Rodrigo struts about. Tiny Gabriela sits quietly back, like a mouse, and you don't notice the muscle tone in her arms till halfway through. Gabriela steps to the mic and speaks Japanese. She says Yamaha guitars are the best. She accidentally calls the audience ‘scary' instead of ‘cute'. They get us doing Latin-style call and response, jumping up and down. Rodrigo sits on the stage randomly but compellingly fingering notes and phrases for two minutes, as if he's trying to figure out what to do next, then grins at the audience and plays two bars of Megadeth's greatest song, "Hangar 18", just enough to make you want more (oh please, a lot more), before yanking it out from under you. But you love the guy; you couldn't possibly hold it against him. They turn on a dime, communicating almost telepathically. Gabriela percusses with her hand, her forearm, her fingers, in ways previously unimaginable. Even the wah-wah manages to remain un-gimmicky.

      Rodrigo y Gabriela aren't trying to fill a niche to make a buck. They are channeling themselves through their instruments, letting go their unconscious to create a unique thing before our very eyes, a jazz or Hendrix or Dylan spirit wherein the technical mastery is a conduit of and servant to the higher thing, the art itself, and not merely a marvel and a paycheck. The duo has created something that they can justly claim ownership over, cover songs and all, and they deserve every bit of acclaim and success they are achieving.
Rodrigo Y Gabriela
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report by kern and photos by hanasan
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buttonmag files : Rodrigo Y Gabriela

buttonSensational or Artistic: What Makes These Two So Special? (08/11/12 @ Shibuya AX) : review by kern, photos by hanasan
buttonphoto report (08/11/12 @ Shibuya AX) : photos by hanasan
buttonOff The Beat'n Track (08/03/30 @ Shibuya Duo Music Exchange) : review by dom, photos by hanasan
button指は世界を駆け巡る (08/03/30 @ Shibuya Duo Music Exchange) : review by taiki, photos by hanasan
button日本初上陸は世界仕様で (08/03/30 @ Shibuya Duo Music Exchange) : review by miyo, photos by hanasan
buttonphoto report (08/03/30 @ Shibuya Duo Music Exchange) : photos by hanasan
buttonColumn : 定例 : これを見逃すな! ロドリゴ・イ・ガブリエラ - アコギでメタリカ!? (08/01/12) : previewed by hanasan
buttonphoto report : (07/06/23 @ Glastonbury Festival in Pilton, Somerset) : photos by hanasan
buttonモノクロ、メタル (07/05/28 @ Carling Academy, Liverpool) : review by miyo
buttonCD review : Rodrigo Y Gabriela (06/05/25) : reviewed by hanasan

The official site

Rodrigo Y Gabriela


check 'em? -->MySpace / iTunes

The latest album

Rodrigo Y Gabriela

"Live in Japan"
(国内盤 + DVD / UK import / UK import / US import / iTunes)

previous works

Rodrigo Y Gabriela

"Rodrigo Y Gabriela"
(国内盤DVD付き限定盤 / 国内盤 / UK import with DVD/ UK import / US import/ US import - '12analog/ iTunes)

Rodrigo Y Gabriela


"Live Manchester & Dublin"(UK import enhanced / iTunes)
"Re - Foc"(US import / iTunes)
"Stairway to Heaven [single]"(US import / UK import - 7 inch analog / UK import - 12 inch analog / iTunes)
"Tamacun [single]"(UK import - 7 inch analog / iTunes)
"Diablo Rojo (Live from Oxegen 2005) [single]"(iTunes)

check the albums?

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buttonSensational or Artistic: What Makes These Two So Special? : Rodrigo Y Gabriela (12th Nov. @ Shibuya AX)
buttonWhy Don't You Come On Over, Z? : The Zutons (17th Oct. @ Shibuya O-East)


buttonoverall view on Asagiri Jam (06th to 07th Oct. @ Asagiri Arena)

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