Monday, 8 December 2014

Rodrigo Y Gabriela - Leeds 02 Academy, November 30th 2014

(Photo - Tina Korhonen)

I’ve always been a fan of instrumentals, call it a guilty pleasure if you like but they’ve consistently found their way into my playlists over the years, and from such a wide variety of genres too, progressive rock, jazz, classical not to mention a stack of techno….sometimes vocals just get in the way. So with that in mind, Mexican classical guitar pairing Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s visit to Leeds, the first of seven live UK dates on the back of their latest album release ‘9 Dead Alive’, was always likely to pique my interest, particularly with their heavy metal overtones. The duo’s profile has never been higher either, the current album is grazing the US Top 20, their stint at this summer’s Glastonbury Festival was extremely well received, all evident tonight as the O2 is packed out on both levels and must be pretty close to sold out.

The opening brace from ‘9’ get things underway and both ‘The Soundmaker’ and ‘Torito’ are upbeat yet moody. Immediately you are in awe of how the pair’s differing playing styles complement each other, making one hell of a racket despite the lack of any other musicians on stage. Rodrigo playing mostly with a pick coves the vast majority of the lead work, whereas Gabriela is to acoustic rhythm guitar what Scott Ian is to its electric brother, plenty of crunching chords as her whole hand peppers the strings, getting a nice percussive rhythm from the hollow body at the same time, giving the songs a welcome bottom end. Her fingers must be made of titanium. Their stage set seems to be pretty fluid too, the audience asked requests in between songs and we also get the odd slip-up most notably in ‘Santa Domingo’, as everyone cheers when they stop and correct themselves. We’re also treated to a solo interlude from both performers as the other presumably nips backstage to place their hands in a bucket of iced water.

RYG are also known for their idiosyncratic interpretations of rock classics including ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Orion’ and we get both this evening. The Zep number arrives as a segue during ‘Diablo Rojo’ and the latter forms part of a Metallica medley including what sounds like ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ ‘Battery’ and ‘The Frayed Ends Of Sanity’. We also get sizeable chunks of ‘War Pigs’ and ‘Creep’ during the encore, complete with Rodrigo on vocals, greatly assisted by the clearly won over throng. Ironically there’s also a cover of ‘Nature’s Way’, I say that as the original version was performed by a band called ‘Spirit’ who are currently in a legal battle with Led Zeppelin over the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’….such a small world.

Finally we get signature RYG track ‘Tamacun’, oozing flamenco- fueled urgency as everyone helps contribute to a rousing finish. These guys may be considered an acquired taste to some music fans but they certainly know how to get an audience eating out of the palm of their hand.

Words - Mike Price