A dreary Tuesday night in Birmingham city centre and, while thousands head towards the NIA to witness Lily Allen going through the motions, those in the know are at the Academy to witness one of the most spectacular musical groups on the planet – Rodrigo Y Gabriela.
It’s been a few years now since I was introduced to this Mexican couple when they opened for Damien Rice at Shepherds Bush Empire. I didn’t really know anything about them then and they blew me away with their dazzling display of fast-fingered, metal-inspired flamenco guitar workouts. So I was more than a little eager to see them again as headliners. This time I had an idea of what to expect but Rodrigo SÃ¡nchez and Gabriela Quintero still managed to amaze and mesmerize myself and the entire Academy crowd.
Casually wandering onto the large stage of the main room, the couple pretty much ignore the crowd to begin with and set the tone for the evening with dueling guitars, pushing their plugged-in acoustic instruments to their absolute limits. The energy, technique and passion in their playing is truly spellbinding and the reaction from the audience after each tune is enormous.
Rodrigo and Gabriela often stay seated for much of their set but tonight they’re almost always standing, trying to fill the stage. Gabriella is the first to speak to the crowd, sharing stories of how the pair remember touring the UK with their sound engineer in a car and having curry every day. She curses in her cute broken English and plenty of the boys in attendance find themselves with a new crush.
“Any Metallica fans here?” asks Gabriella to a roar of approval. A brief snippet of Metallica’s “Whiplash” leads into their epic cover of the metal giants’ “Orion”, a highlight from their debut album and a staple of their live shows. Gabriella’s dexterity on the guitar extends to tapping out intricate rhythms on the body of the instrument at the same time as hammering out the riffs on the strings. It truly is something to behold.
At one point Rodrigo teases the crowd with the intro to Rage Against The Machine‘s “Bombtrack” before quickly going on to play a track from their new album, “11:11”, which is an homage to those artists which have influenced their music. Indeed, 90% of the new album is showcased tonight. It all sounds incredible live. Both musicians have their moment alone in the spotlight but it’s always together that they’re truly at their finest, sparring and interacting in a way that makes you think they were both born to be up on that stage… together. Who else with two acoustic guitars could have people at the front jumping up and down while at the back people are dancing to their infectious rhythms?!
“We’re gonna play some drums” announces Gabriella. “If you feel like dancing naked on stage we might give you a fiver”. Nobody takes her up on her offer. As Rodrigo continues to pick out the melodies on his guitar, his partner proves she’s no one-trick-pony, tapping out elaborate rhythms on the bongos.
As my friend in the audience comments, if you have a list of things to do before you die, seeing Rodrigo Y Gabriella live needs to be on there. A truly stunning performance.
Review & Photos – Steve Gerrard