Rodrigo y Gabriela let their music (and Zach de la Rocha) do all the talking
08.20.10 | Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO
On the drive up to Red Rocks my brother and I alternated discussing how you could describe Rodrigo y Gabriela's music to a neophyte and speculating what the crowd would look like. When we rolled up around 7:45, we were greeted by one of the most diverse crowds we'd ever seen. While my brother wagered that Rodrigo y Gabriela would attract an older crowd, I fully expected to see a younger crowd filled with music nerds. Turns out, we were both right. The crowd was filled with people from all walks of life from young dread headed hippies to middle aged stockbroker types to everything in between.
By the time we took our seats, opener Xavier Rudd and his band were in the middle of their third song. Best known for incorporating the guttural sounds of an aboriginal didgeridoo and loose funked-out acoustic guitar strumming, Xavier Rudd has been a well known rising star in the tie-dyed jamband world for quite a few summers now.
Rudd's set represented all that's loathesome to me about jamband music: Endlessly droning songs with too many instrumental solos and a lack of overall rhythmic variety between the songs. I didn't get it at all. The gimmick of using an Australian tree-root pipe that makes animal-like noises is just not enough for me.
A good portion of the crowd below me, however, was spinning like fireflies in the moonlight, making it clear that at least some people were engaged in what he was doing. Myself, I was pretty ready for him to wrap it up, so when the end of the set finally came, it was grateful.
Between the end of Rudd set and the start of Rodrigo y Gabriela's, I made small talk with a few folks sitting near me, including a young couple from Washington DC who told me this was their third Rod and Gab show this summer -- Rod and Gab! Turns out Rodrigo y Gabriela have earned an Americanized nickname from their fans.
As for me, I'll admit it: I was a little late to the party when it came to getting hip to the acoustic guitar badassery of Rodrigo y Gabriela. The pair first crossed my radar about two summers ago when I saw a YouTube clip of the duo from Mexico City-by-way-of-Ireland performing their version of the thrash metal classic "Orion" Metallica.
As the lights went down and our eyes and ears turned towards the stage, the first thing that struck us was the stage layout, or lack thereof. Instead of drumsets on risers huddling beneath massive scaffoldings of lights and lasers, Rodrigo y Gabiela's stage consisted of five road gear cases plopped across the stage in a semi-circle in front of a stage banner backdrop that resembled a gigantic gash from a tiger's claws. There were also some old school spotlights scattered here and there, but that was pretty much it. The absence of distractions, turned out to be a good thing, as it allowed us all to focus on the music.
When the house lights finally dimmed and the background music stopped, Rodrigo y Gabriela walked out from the darkness armed only with matching acoustic guitars and dressed modestly in short sleeve shirts and jeans. The crowd erupted into hoots and hollers while the duo sat on the small road cases on the stage sitting opposite from each other.
In short order, the songs increased in technicality with sounds I didn't know were possible from acoustic guitars suddenly filling the stage from all sides. I learned quickly by watching them that simple hand gestures like slapping, tapping, and rubbing can create some pretty far out sounds. Of course every new song played delivered even more surprises, all of which further melted my brain.
How in the world did these two learn to play guitar like that? I wondered. To say it was a mind blowing display of musical creativity and sheer, raw talent in action would be a colossal understatement. Once the music started, I never once noticed the humble stage decor or lack of flashing lights and lasers. And can I just say that Gabriela threw down like Slayer's Kerry King all night long on her fragile looking acoustic guitar.