Rodrigo y Gabriela impress in Boston

A review of Rodrigo y Gabriela at the Boston Opera House on August 26, 2010

, Contributing Writer

Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela have been referred to “Metal Mariachi”, but that barely scratches the surface of the whirlwind of musical genres they brought to the Boston Opera House on Thursday night. That fact that these two acoustic guitarists can produce such complete elements of not only metal and mariachi, but also flamenco, rock, and funk – just to name a few – is quite impressive. Rodrigo y Gabriela’s blend of unconventional versus traditional styles of play was breathtaking at times as they pushed their instruments to the limits, and then some.

It was Gabriela who stole the show for the earlier part of the night. She plays rhythm to Rodrigo’s lead, but that’s not to say she takes a backseat during performances; she enjoys the spotlight just as much as her counterpart. After the two appeared on stage and played a low, soft intro which nicely built up the crowd’s anticipation, Gabriela launched into her unique and extraordinary style of rhythmic guitar for the opening of “Hanuman”. Drumming on the guitar’s body, slapping the strings with the palm of her hand, and strumming staccato chords with lightning speed, she was able to transform a single acoustic instrument into a full percussion section. Gabriela utilizes the wooden body as much as the strings themselves, and the result is a complex, intricate sound that early guitarists never could have imagined. The guitar virtuous is quickly making an imprint and her unheard-of method of play is sure to influence many aspiring musicians in the years to come.

Rodrigo, on the other hand, plays a much more traditional style of Spanish guitar. However, the results are just as astounding. The speed and dexterity with which his fingers flew across the frets wowed the audience as he created the fast-paced melodies that the duo is known for. While Gabriela makes her mark with her originality and creative use of the guitar, her partner does so with his sheer talent. His versatility is stunning; the thrashing chords and riffs of their acoustic-metal songs retain the same artistic flair as the lively flamenco and mariachi melodies. He picks, fingers, and strums with a speed and uncanny precision that leave lesser guitarists green with envy. One of the night’s highlights came with his extended solo near the end of the set. The picking aficionado navigated through melodies combining Mexican, metal, and even distorted-funk elements, blazing through genres almost as quickly as his hands gliding up and down the guitar’s neck. As if that wasn’t enough, he then picked up a bottle from atop a nearby speaker, and used it as a slide, pressing it against the strings to tap out a sharp melody. The audience, needless to say, was delighted.

The duo’s latest album, 11:11, served as the main centerpiece of the performance. Each song is dedicated to an artist who has inspired their music, and the pair was doling out tributes like candy on Halloween. Aside from the aforementioned “Hanuman”, dedicated to Carlos Santana, the concert also featured the Le Trio Joubran accolade “Triveni” and “Hora Zero” in honor of tango composer Ástor Piazzollo. The duo also paid homage to Jimi Hendrix with “Buster Voodoo”, which served as the night’s encore. While some of the material seems a bit redundant – some songs simply sounded like continuations of others – it’s worth every opportunity to hear those two bring their acoustic instruments to life.

Another of the night’s highlights was the Rodrigo y Gabriela’s cover of Metallica’s “Orion”. The two met while playing for metal thrash band “Tierra Ácida”, and the influence of their beginnings are evident even without the use of the electric guitar. They are clearly partial to the metal scene, and their affection for Metallica was well displayed. Most impressive was Gabriela as she took on the role of drums, bass, and rhythm. Never mind the musical genius it surely takes to transcribe such parts into something playable on an acoustic guitar; her delivery was simply phenomenal.

Rodrigo y Gabriela also enjoy a pleasant chemistry on stage. Gabriela is the more active of the two, roaming round the stage, tapping her feet, and even jumping up and down at times. Rodrigo is much more tranquil, his eyes almost closed as if the music emanates from his rapt concentration rather than the instrument in his hands. An enjoyable moment came late in the night when the two stood across from each other in a confrontational manner and unleashed a battle of furious riffs, each attempting to outdo the other while the audience’s eyes flew back and forth between them, like spectators to some hectic tennis volley.

The duo still have a way to go – they certainly don’t want to be known for their covers of Metallica and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, and they need to add a few more albums to their collection before they can be considered musical greats – but the two have made an impressive presence in an American scene dominated by pop, rap, and rock. The popularity they have earned with only two acoustic guitars is an indicator that audiences are open to something else – and something original. And that’s what Rodrigo y Gabriela deliver; their creative use of the guitar and genius blend of Mexican and metal elements is a refreshing style that will only improve with time.

Local favorite Ryan Montbleau pleased early arrivals with a charming but brief opening set. Playing solo, the singer-songwriter delivers a Jason Mraz/Barenaked Ladies type of vibe. “Maybe Today”, “Honeymoon Eyes”, and “Carry” received modest applause from fans. He also provided a preview of his upcoming album Heavy On The Vine with the single “Chariot”.

Leave a Reply