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.