The virtuosic guitar duo delivered a tour-de-force performance at the Orpheum, creating new worlds for their audiences as they return to their musical roots.

5/15/19 – The Orpheum

Halfway through the “Krotona Days”, the first song of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s Wednesday-evening set at the Orpheum, a long, loose guitar string dangled from the neck of Rodrigo Sanchez’s dark blue electric. “Well, it happens,” the turquoise-haired guitarist quipped at the song’s conclusion. Gabriela Quintero, his musical partner, responded from the other side of the stage with a good-natured aside to the crowd; “of course it would break during the first song.” For a pair of virtuosic guitarists, this type of error was a slight aberration from a high standard, but spend some time with almost any song from their hard-charging discography, and a broken string once in a while is pretty understandable, if not expected.

Even with Rodrigo’s fluorescent hair, the duo seemed at first like they could pass as traditionalists, seated center stage on a few raised steps with soft yellow lighting, plucking out the flamenco-infused “Cumbé” on nylon strings. Soon afterwards, however, the overhead lights brightened to a harsh blue and white while they left their stoop, tearing into the gritty bass line of “Terracentric.” Supported by a pounding four-on-the-floor, they cycled through a kaleidoscope of influences from country, to blues, to Nile Rogers-style riffing in the back half of the song. Other songs, like “Hanuman,” maneuvered through different genres so smoothly and subtly that it was easy to second guess what they were playing. Was that … Nirvana in those power chords in the middle? Was that really John Mayer, right at the beginning of “Electric Soul?” No matter how far afield they traveled stylistically, the core of their sound never strayed – throughout the night, the interplay between Rodrigo’s melodic lyricism and Gabriela’s fierce and acrobatic rhythm guitar were a constant presence.

This dual dynamic of give-and-take is at the heart of their music, a chemistry forged over 20+ years of writing, recording, and performing. Over the course of the show, the two instinctively moved in tandem, drifting apart and coming back to the small steps in the center of the stage while never once breaking rhythm. Songs as difficult as the polyrhythmic “11:11” started with a simple head nod or count-off, and suddenly they’d begin, perfectly aligned with each other. Most memorably, they led the audience through medley of their older material as an encore, where Rodrigo or Gabriela would just shout a title to change tunes, and automatically, mid-song, they’d introduce a new theme, leaving the audience to catch up with them.

 

In contrast with their fiery playing, their words were humble and carefully chosen. In between songs, either Gabriela or Rodrigo took turns speaking to the crowd, sincerely and with surprising vulnerability. Gabriela revealed the origin story behind their latest, critically-acclaimed album Mettavolution, and the important role the audience plays in their music. “We were in Japan, after a show, and we realized that we wanted to rediscover the spark that we had on our first albums,” she explained, “and that meant making music that we enjoy, but most importantly, that you enjoy.” A few songs later, Rodrigo asked the audience to “send energy” via a short video to a friend who was about to undergo surgery. He pulled out his phone out of his pocket, and joked “I usually don’t like to bring out a phone at concerts (“Same!”, responded an inebriated man in the balcony), and asked the house manager to put up the lights. As he started filming, the audience, waving and cheering, stood up from their seats to offer encouragement.  

The musical centerpiece of their set occurred towards the end, a 13-minute rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” that showcased the band’s experimental and textural side. Opening with the song’s signature sonar pings, plucked by Rodrigo high on the neck of his guitar, the cover morphed from introspective chords into a fantastical, hazy atmosphere of high, whistling tones and rustling rhythms that sounded a lot like the faint rainbow lights dancing behind them. While its sheer size and breadth was impressive enough, the cover captured what the duo does best- diverse, unexpected musical influences combined with technical wizardry, delivered with sincere emotion.

Over the course of the night, the crowd gradually began to reflect back the energy radiating from the stage. Naturally, Rodrigo and Gabriela play with an intensity and focus that their music practically demands, but when the audience began spontaneously clapping along to “Diablo Rojo”, or rose from their seats to dance to the album’s title track, a smile spread over Gabriela’s face and Rodrigo moved instinctively towards the edge of the stage. While they remain formidable musicians, Wednesday’s performance revealed that a deep appreciation for their audience undergird their technical fireworks.

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