Monday, October 29, 2007

Rodrigo Y Gabriela - Live 10.21.07 - Washington, D.C.

Two straight-backed, black leather chairs sat empty on the stage at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. The sold-out house, packed with hundreds of anxious Rodrigo Y Gabriela fans, bustled with rowdy anticipation. Shortly after 9:30, an uproar of applause and cheering welcomed the young guitar duo as they took their seats and strapped on their acoustic guitars.

Hailing from Mexico City, the pair definitely has a Spanish guitar sound, but to say that these two are flamenco artists would be a glaring understatement. In fact, describing their music using any conventional classifications seems inadequate. The Latin roots are undeniable, but Rodrigo Y Gabriela have truly created a style of their own - a form of jazzy acoustic hard rock you really have to see to believe.

The D.C. crowd was inspirited from the first note of the performance, clapping loudly and moving their bodies to the rhythms that Gabriela slapped out on her guitar. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed; hands moving so rapidly they are a blur, striking each chord and beat in perfect time.

At one point towards the end of the show Gabriela attempted to demonstrate her method, explaining that many people think she uses her knuckles but it is actually her wrist, thumb, middle, and ring finger. Despite slowing it down quite a bit, it’s doubtful that anyone will be able to replicate her technique.

The seemingly effortless ferocity on stage was complemented by live video providing close-up views of the fluttering fingers and impeccable artistry. Rodrigo’s deft maneuvers on the fret board exhibit a technical mastery surprising for such a young musician. He not only picks the strings but also occasionally scrapes them, creating a thunderous sound resembling a helicopter or jet engine. Whenever he was not playing, his arm raised and pumped in the air, inciting the crowd to clap along with Gabriela’s percussive taps.

About midway through the set, Gabriela finally spoke out, “Hello everybody! You’re f**king great clappers,” eliciting a wall-rumbling outburst of hoots and hollers. She mentioned a new album coming up next year with “new riffs and new harmonies,” and then added with a smile, “If you want to dance naked, no problemo,” before launching into the next song.

After this number, it was Rodrigo’s turn to address the fans. “It’s great to finally be here after two times we couldn’t,” referring to the Visa problems earlier this year which resulted in several postponed shows. He then welcomed former Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick (who had played as the opening act in the form of the Alex Skolnick Trio) to the stage, stating what an honor it was to have him there.

Once their guest had concluded his appearance, Rodrigo Y Gabriela resumed their head-banging thrash acoustica with more songs off their self-titled album and its forerunner Re-Foc. In addition to original material, the duo put their innovative spin on the Led Zeppelin classic “Stairway To Heaven,” as well as several Metallica tunes including “Orion” and “One”.

Perhaps the most stirring moment of the evening came during the hair-raising cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” which had nearly every audience member singing along. Just when it seemed Rodrigo couldn’t possibly be more impressive, he picked up his beer bottle and used it to play an amazingly smooth slide guitar solo which evoked looks of wonderment throughout the audience.

The show ended after roughly two hours of steady playing, although Rod Y Gab looked like they could keep going all night. The expressions of awe on the faces exiting the 9:30 Club were evidence that casual fans had become admirers. Rodrigo Y Gabriela have legitimately raised the bar, and their live show couldn’t come more highly recommended.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Bridge - The Bridge CD Review

There is something undeniably cathartic about driving and listening to music.

Certain albums seem to be made for the open road, and The Bridge’s self-titled release is one of those offerings. With a laid back pace and narrative lyrics referring to wheels a-turning and engines spinning, it is a very befitting companion for a trip down the highway.

The young Baltimore-bred quintet delivers a melting pot of musical styles on this latest CD – from bluegrass-flavored tunes like “Flats of the Old Avenue” and “Chains,” to the incredibly funky “Bad Locomotive” and “Shake ‘em Down.” One of The Bridge’s unique selling points is the incorporation of beat box and saxophone, adding jazz and hip-hop flare into the mix as well.

From the opening song “Get Back Up,” listeners will hear the remarkably tight instrumentation between guitarist Cris Jacobs, bassist Dave Markowitz, drummer Mike Gambone, saxophonist Patrick Rainey, and mandolin/beat boxing extraordinaire Kenny Liner. Supplementing the five core members of the group are frequent guest appearances, including organist John Ginty (Citizen Cope), pianist Mookie Siegel (Phil Lesh & Friends, Dave Nelson Band), and drummer Russell Batiste Jr. (The Funky Meters).

One of the album’s most powerful displays appears in the soulful and dynamic “Angelina.” Jacobs reveals his strength on lead vocals, showcasing a broad range and pitch perfect harmonies with backing vocalists Dave Markowitz and guest Ed Hough.

“Bad Locomotive” is an instant stand-out track, filled with beefy bass lines, smoking hot guitar licks, and a blistering solo from Jacobs that is nearing Stevie Ray Vaughan status. Ominous statements like “halfway to the burying ground” and “I sold my reason for a one-way ride” conjure images of addiction and destructive behavior, which marks a brief departure from the mostly light-hearted tone found in the rest of the album.

Beyond his abilities on the guitar and vocals, Cris Jacobs is listed as the songwriter for nine of the album’s twelve tracks. He and co-founder Kenny Liner share authorship of “The Ballad of Clear Rock,” and Liner is credited with the remaining two songs.

It was an ambitious undertaking considering the band’s heavy national touring schedule, but apparently these two were up to the challenge. What has emerged is a refreshing album with broad appeal, one that literally bridges the gap between genres and generations (and it helps with road rage, too).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - Live 10.9.07 - Charlottesville, VA

The Drive-By Truckers are surely missing the talent of Jason Isbell, but from the look of his performance in Charlottesville last week, he’s not lacking anything at all. His songs, both new and old, teem with the fresh energy of a man who's no longer fenced in. His touring outfit, the 400 Unit, lay down deep-fried accompaniment that is the perfect enhancer for Jason's fiery twang rock recipe.

The boys from Muscle Shoals started this evening at the Satellite Ballroom with “Brand New Kind of Actress,” also the opener from Isbell’s debut solo album Sirens In The Ditch. They wasted no time getting into Truckers material though, following with the hard-edged “Decoration Day” to the delight of the crowd. The band was solid, and the pure power that Jason and co-guitarist Browan Lollar unleashed during the solo was a full-on assault. If there were any doubts about the 400 Unit’s capabilities, they were quickly erased.

To display his virtuosity, Jason moved to the piano for “Chicago Promenade,” a slower-tempo ballad from the new album. As he sang and tickled the keys, his raspy, smoker’s voice resembled a southern version of Tom Waits. “Are ya’ll having a good time?,” he asked as he reclaimed his axe and took a swig of beer. The audience cheered with a resounding yes, and they were rewarded with more hammering drums, deep bass grooves, southern-style vocal harmonies, and blistering guitar interplay.

Jason Isbell and the members of the 400 Unit have an evident chemistry and camraderie, which surely lends a great deal to the vibe on stage. They seem to be having fun while also remaining committed to their musicianship, something that is decidedly more difficult than it looks.

Between songs, while switching from electric to acoustic, Jason commented on Charlottesville calling it a “beautiful town with beautiful people” and repeatedly thanked everyone for coming out and listening. While most musicians give these obligatory nods to the fans, Jason’s came across as sincerely grateful. He then announced that he and the band would play their one bluegrass song, “The Magician.” While it didn’t have the same “pow” factor as the electric songs, it further exposed the members' multi-talented abilities.

After a brief smoke break, the reinvigorated band emerged and blasted into "Never Gonna Change," a song written for the Drive-By Truckers 2004 release The Dirty South. This was perhaps the highlight of the evening, with the back-end more lively than it had been all night.

In addition to Jason's self-penned material, the band also threw in a couple cover songs – the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” Eric Clapton’s “Please Be With Me,”,and ending with Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” – all of which were remarkably impressive and faithful to the originals.


Brand New Kind of Actress
Decoration Day
Chicago Promenade
Down In A Hole
Psycho Killer
Goddamn Lonely Love
The Magician
Please Be With Me
Never Gonna Change
In A Razor Town

The Assassin